KANNAPOLIS — If that old real-estate axiom of location, location, location truly counts for anything, the N.C. Music Hall of Fame will be a success someday. It's immediately adjacent to the big bronze statue of the late Dale Earnhardt, the iconic NASCAR legend (and Kannapolis native).
"Yeah, we get some accidental visitors," Eddie Ray says with a laugh. "Racing fans who are here to see the Earnhardt statue and wonder what's going on next door with the music. Those people tend to be country music fans."
There's been a version of the N.C. Music Hall of Fame since the late 1990s, when it originated 50 miles up the road in Thomasville. But the hall was inactive for most of the past decade until Ray (who serves as operations director and vice chairman) and record executive Mike Curb revived it and moved it to the former jailhouse of the old Kannapolis Village.
Curb, a former lieutenant governor of California, bankrolled both the music hall and the nearby Curb Motorsports Museum.
Six months after opening in Kannapolis, the N.C. Music Hall of Fame remains a modest work in progress. Most of the enshrined acts are represented by little more than pictures on the walls.
Until it has more to show off, one of the hall's rooms is given over to displays of acts with no connection to North Carolina, including Tim McGraw, LeAnn Rimes and Garth Brooks - who are all signed to Curb Records.
"Well, this is where we are at the present time," Ray says. "Come back in six months, and we hope there will be more to it."
Chosen by the board
Ray has ambitious plans for the hall, which only has exhibits on the ground floor for now. There's plenty of room to expand upstairs, where Ray would like to someday see a digital archive with music and interviews.
A native of Franklin, Ray is credited with co-writing "Hearts of Stone," a multi-format smash in the mid-1950s for the Charms, Fontane Sisters and Red Foley. He later worked as an executive at Capitol Records (where he signed a young Mike Curb to a record deal in 1964), MGM Records and Stax Publishing before serving as commissioner of the U.S. Copyright Tribunal under President Reagan.
A seven-member board decides which artists get into the hall, and the most recent round was inducted in October. Some of the artifacts include stage outfits worn by Thomasville "Dixie Diva" opera singer Victoria Livengood, gold records and other memorabilia from Marshville's Randy Travis, and a fiddle and hat donated by Wilmington's Charlie Daniels.
Tar Heel natives Donna Fargo, Roberta Flack, Andy Griffith and Lowman Pauling of Winston-Salem's "5" Royales also have displays. But there are a few artists whose connections to North Carolina are a bit tenuous. Archie Bell (of "Tighten Up" fame) is from Houston, but he lives in Charlotte now. So he's in, represented by an electric blue suit from his collection of stage attire. And South Carolina native Dizzy Gillespie is in because he attended the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina for two years.
As for missing artists, Elizabeth Cotten, Doc Watson, Shirley Caesar, Mitch Easter, Arthur Smith, the dB's and Squirrel Nut Zippers are still nowhere in evidence. So far, the hall is also missing out on a potential big draw in that it has nothing on any of North Carolina's many "American Idol" finalists - Chris Daughtry, Clay Aiken, Kellie Pickler or even 2004 season winner Fantasia Barrino.
"It's going to take us a while to catch up," Ray says. "So we're starting with a lot of the older, posthumous musicians, the [Thelonious] Monks and [John] Coltranes and Kate Smiths."
There's one other curious oversight. George Clinton was inducted this past October, but the museum still doesn't have a display for him - which is surprising because, like Earnhardt, he's a native of Kannapolis.
"We haven't been able to get him to send us any memorabilia yet," Ray says. "But we're working on it. Give us time."