Faircloth "F.C." Barnes, the gospel music icon from Rocky Mount, died Monday at a hospital in Greenville after a period of failing health. He was 82.
For more than half a century, the Rev. Barnes led Red Budd Holy Church in Rocky Mount, a renowned "singing church" where the Word was as likely to be sung as spoken. He was best-known for the hit "Rough Side of the Mountain," a song that sounds traditional enough to be at least a century old. Barnes wrote it in 1982.
"I once asked how he'd describe his music, and Rev. Barnes answered, 'Like I look,' " UNC-Chapel Hill folklore professor Glenn Hinson said Wednesday. "I asked what he meant, and without a pause he said, 'Old-timey.' He always held onto the old-time traditional style."
You could say that Barnes was born to be a minister. His father sang gospel, and his grandfather and five uncles were all preachers. So he grew up singing, which continued when he founded Red Budd in 1959 in a converted juke joint near the little Nash County town of Castalia.
The civil rights era brought trouble, including a 1963 bombing that reduced Red Budd's original building to rubble and forced a move to Rocky Mount. But the music kept playing, and Red Budd's reputation grew over the years.
Notable musicians to emerge from Red Budd include the reverend's son, Luther Barnes, a big star on the gospel circuit.
"We just had more or less of a singing family, and we're still going in that direction," Rev. Barnes said more than a decade ago. "I have four sons and they all sing. So do their children, their brothers, and their children. And I'm the pastor of all of them."
"Rough Side of the Mountain" became enough of a standard to earn a gold record after the album of the same name sold more than 500,000 copies. But Barnes wrote other songs that became equally popular in the gospel canon.
Wayne Martin, folklife director of the N.C. Arts Council, recently served on a National Endowment for the Arts panel reviewing grant applications from gospel groups and was struck by how many applicants performed Barnes songs.
"Just on the basis of 'Rough Side of the Mountain,' he was one of the most important gospel composers of our time," Martin said Wednesday. "His music is so direct, so much a product of his own experience, that people can relate to it. And even after getting into the mainstream, he still had very traditional roots reflecting his experiences in North Carolina African-American communities.
"He's been a real cultural treasure for us."
Barnes is survived by his wife, Addrine Gaskins Barnes; and four sons, two daughters, 11 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, four brothers, five sisters, two uncles and one aunt.
There will be a memorial service at 7 p.m. Friday at Red Budd Holy Church in Rocky Mount, with the funeral set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Red Budd.