A music legend opens North Carolina's own Music Hall of Fame
In the lobby of the new North Carolina Music Hall of Fame is a shrine to favorite son. "Up front here, we have James Taylor," says Eddie Ray. "A t-shirt with Carolina on my Mind, which of course is one of his greatest songs. And then photographs." Eddie Ray is the director of operations for the NC Music Hall of Fame in downtown Kannapolis, of all places. There's a good reason for the location: the museum's benefactor is music executive Mike Curb who also owns the motorsports museum in Kannapolis. He's a long-time pal of Eddie Ray and of Dole Food Company founder David Murdock who donated space in the old Kannapolis jail to house the Music Hall of Fame. Ray says the renovation was tough, but now it's a bright, airy homage to North Carolina's music greats. They're working through a long list of inductees. "It's about 200 and some names of potential North Carolinians who will qualify," says Ray. In fact, the museum may not be big enough. "No, that's our problem. It's definitely not big enough," agrees Ray. There's barely enough room for the country contingent, which might be the most well-known of North Carolina's homegrown musicians. Randy Travis has donated autographed posters and cd covers and even one of his signature beaded jackets. Yes, country is big in North Carolina, but there's a lot more to the state's music heritage. "We also have people like Robert Flack," says Ray. "We have jazz, tremendous big jazz artists in North Carolina. Like Coltrane and Thelonius Monk and Dizzy Gillespie and others. And you also have people like Shirley Caesar and Black gospel. And what about some of the newer artists? "Yeah, American Idol," volunteers Ray. "You've got Clay Aiken. Kelly Pickler. Fantasia. We intend to induct them." Ray says you don't need to be a music mega star to make it into the North Carolina hall of fame - just as long as you were born in the state or spent a lot of time here. While they're at it, they probably ought to induct Eddie Ray. He was born in the North Carolina mountains, but left for LA as a teenager, where he took a job in the shipping room of a record label. "I was shipping and packing records for an independent label," recalls Ray. "I've been in the business for a long time. I handled all the national sales and promotion for a guy named Rick Nelson, remember Rick? Fats Domino. At one time the three biggest selling single selling artists in the country were Elvis, Fats Domino, Rick Nelson. I had two of the three, so I had a lot of success, okay? " Ray says he also did all the national sales and promotion for a country artist named Slim Whitman. "And this was back in the time when it was unbelievable that a black guy in '56 walking into Provo, Utah and Oregon City, Oregon promoting a country artist," says Ray. "That was me! I didn't know I wasn't supposed to do that." Ray went on to Capitol Records where he signed Pink Floyd and became the first African American vice president of a major record company. That was 1965. "I've had a great career in the music business, you know," says Ray. Eddie Ray came out of retirement to head up the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. He says it's a natural extension of his career. And it doesn't end with the CDs and memorabilia on display: "I believe the future museum is much more than this physical place," says Ray. "I want to establish a digital archives of everybody that's in here. And we want to provide everything that artist has done of any consequence from the day he was born. So we can reach millions of people." Starting today, the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame welcomes visitors free of charge weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the old Kannapolis jail.