By the time Elvis performed in the Charlotte Coliseum in 1956, the seeds of Rock & Roll were already planted in the Queen City. Nappy Brown, a Charlotte native, hit the national Rhythm & Blues (R&B) charts in 1954 with “Don’t Be Angry” and his song, “(Night Time) Is The Right Time,” became a huge hit for Ray Charles. Another Charlotte- born musician, Wilbert Harrison, found national fame in 1959 with his recording of “Kansas City,” now a Rock & Roll standard. Longtime Charlottean Maurice Williams saw his song “Little Darlin’” become a nationwide hit for the Diamonds in 1957, and his recording of “Stay” reached number one in 1960.
Many Charlotte young people heard the early Rock & Roll and R&B sounds and were inspired to create their own bands and unique blends of music. One example is the Charlotte based group the Catalinas, now recognized as one of the first bands of the Beach Music genre. The Catalinas are 2013 inductees of the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame and still perform at local armories, high schools, Park Center (now Grady Cole) and the Charlotte Coliseum, as well as touring with national acts.
Like much of the United States, Charlotte’s music scene thrived after the rise of the Beatles and the 1964 British Invasion. Local bands such as the Paragons, Grifs, Stowaways, Young Ages, GBU, and August all recorded singles or albums during the 1960s, and often recorded at Arthur Smith Studios on Monroe Road. Many of these records are now collector’s items with the Paragons’ 1966 “Abba” single pricing at up to $1,800. The highlight of Charlotte’s Rock & Roll scene may well have been the 1966 WAYS Battle of the Bands. Hosted by WAYS radio, the daylong showcase at the Charlotte Coliseum featured 27 acts from throughout the region.
During the 1980s, the Charlotte music scene saw a huge resurgence in nationwide visibility. The Spongetones went from packing out the Double Door Inn to receiving glowing reviews in Rolling Stone, and even appearing on American Bandstand. Fetchin’ Bones released three albums on Capitol Records during the 1980s, while Antiseen brought their Southern Punk sound to Europe.
In the 1990s, venues such as Tremont Music Hall and former movie theaters like the Neighborhood Theatre and the Visulite Theater began catering to the new Charlotte music scene. Bands like Spite, Sound Of Mine, Violet Strange and Lou Ford all received national attention, while Justincase released an album on the Madonna-owned Maverick Records in 2002.
Over the past several years, Charlotte has continued to see further growth in music and venues. There are small, intimate venues such as the Evening Muse and other large venues like NC Music Factory, featuring a large amphitheater and indoor theater. Bands such as The Avett Brothers along with American Idol stars Clay Aiken and Fantasia bring attention to Charlotte’s music scene. As of 2014, Charlotte based Rock & Roll band Matrimony released their debut album on Columbia Records. Also, bands like Flagship and Benji Hughes and R&B singer Anthony Hamilton continue to have a huge following, proving modern musicians can thrive while living and working in Charlotte.
Daniel Coston, North Carolina Musicians: Photographs and Conversations (McFarland Publications, 2013).
Jacob Berger and Daniel Coston, There Was A Time: Rock & Roll in the 1960s in Charlotte, and North Carolina(Fort Canoga Press, 2014).