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Kinston's Tobacco Warehouses: Music Venues and Dance Halls

by the North Carolina Arts Council. 
Originally published in African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina, copyright 2013.
Republished with permission.
A tobacco town, Kinston was dotted with large tobacco warehouses which served as music venues and dance halls, as well as centers of regional commerce. The warehouses were frequent stops for some of the world’s most famous jazz bands in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Advertising Cab Calloway’s 1947 appearance, the Kinston Daily Free Press noted that it was the only stop the band would make in eastern North Carolina on its tour, an indication that Kinston had a large enough base of ticket-buying music lovers to attract performers of that caliber.

After the big-band era, Kinston’s tobacco warehouses hosted major rhythm and blues bands. According to Michael Moseley [vocalist and mental health professional, originally from Kinston], “Fats Domino would come through, Chubby Checker and all of those acts came to little old Kinston. It was pretty centrally located between the major [military] bases, and so everybody came to Kinston.”

Ray Charles's visit remembered

Ray Charles’s visit to Kinston was remembered by many, among them the saxophonist Maceo Parker, a leading innovator in funk and jazz music:

I got into Ray Charles really early—really, really, really early. And he came to perform here, once or twice before we graduated from high school. I mean, Ray Charles, my goodness! It was a lot of segregated stuff back then, too. I used to think it was so silly, especially when Ray Charles came. They had him perform in a tobacco warehouse, which used to be plentiful here in eastern North Carolina.And some promoter would make a deal with whoever owned the warehouse, and they’d take the tobacco and move it over a little bit, or out in the next [warehouse bay]. [They would] build some kind of little stage. But they would have a rope, a big, thick rope like maybe from a ship or something, and have it in the center of the stage, down the [aisle], and then all the way to the back. They’d have black people on one side, white people on the other side. And I remember as a kid saying, “I don’t understand this. What’s the difference in the rope? I don’t understand.” And then, you know, you’ve got white people over here, black people over here—but you’ve got Ray Charles over here! You know what I mean? And you’re listening at the same time. When you’re young, you don’t really understand what’s going on. You just try to make it make some sense and keep going until you start getting older. And then you start realizing and picking up on conditions.

James Brown's visit remembered: The Night the Fence Went Down

Alfred Fisher, a retired chemist and African American resident of Pamlico County, reminisced about coming inland for dances at Kinston’s tobacco warehouses in a 2007 interview with David Cecelski with the Raleigh News & Observer (“Alfred Fisher: Bay River,” August 12, 2007).

I remember one night James Brown came to Kinston. He was late. He got there about 12 o’clock. But when we left that morning, he was still there; he had quit singing, and he was playing the organ. He played the organ real well. It was 6 o’clock in the morning, and he still hadn’t quit. I remember one night we were in Kinston. This was 1958 or ’59. They had a fence down the middle of the warehouse, you know, that was supposed to separate the white dancers and the black dancers.
But that night, about 12 o’clock, that fence went down! I don’t know who tore it down, but that fence went down. Everybody was dancing together! The cops just threw their hands up! Everybody was dancing till the morning, and then we all went our separate ways.

Keep reading  >>James Timothy "Tim" Brymn Keep reading

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Bryan, Sarah, Beverly Bush Patterson, Michelle Lanier, and Titus Brooks Heagins. African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina. (China, 2013), p. 5-7.

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