It can be said that the N.C. Musician Murals Project began when artist Scott Nurkin, onetime owner of Pepper’s Pizza in Chapel Hill, covered a blank wall in his restaurant with portraits of renowned North Carolina musicians — which caught the eye of people who, along with Nurkin, envisioned wall murals based on these portraits.
Today many of those portraits have been transposed on walls of buildings by Nurkin in the musicians’ hometowns.
Richmond Countians are proud that a wall mural painted by Nurkin of John Coltrane on the wall of the old Opera House in Hamlet officially kicked off the now well-known project.
Click here to read about Nurkin’s work on the Coltrane mural.
Presently, there are wall murals in the state of Thelonious Monk, Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, Earl Scruggs, Randy Travis (in Marshville, which I have personally seen), Betty Davis (“godmother of funk” born in Durham and ex-wife of Miles Davis), Elizabeth Cotten, and Don Gibson.
I have wondered if Rockingham could have a “musician wall,” which musician or musicians would be chosen? Blind Boy Fuller comes to mind.
Fuller was born Fulton Allen in 1904 in Wadesboro but moved with his father as a young child to Rockingham after the death of his mother. Allen became a popular guitarist, playing on street corners and at house parties in Winston Salem, Danville, Virginia, and then Durham, where he developed a large, local following and became associated with other local, popular musicians.
Since his death in 1941 at the age of 36, he has been given much recognition by the city of Durham for his contributions to Piedmont Blues. His influence is acknowledged by many rock artists whose styles draw from the blues including The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and others.
Editor’s Note: Blind Boy Fuller was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2018.
Another possibility would be Dorsey Dixon, along with his brother, Howard, also a musician. Dorsey was born in 1897 in Darlington, South Carolina and died in Plant City, Florida, and is buried in the Eastside Cemetery in Rockingham. The Dixon brothers lived in Richmond County from the 1920s through the 1940s or ’50s, working in textile mills, playing their music to accompany silent movies at the local theater and also for private parties and for their own enjoyment.
The Dixon brothers became well known for the song “Weave Room Blues” and “I Didn’t Hear Anybody Pray,” a sad account of drunk driving written by Dorsey based on a car wreck he had witnessed himself. Roy Acuff, thinking that song was “traditional,” recorded it as “Wreck on the Highway,” which became a huge hit for him. A court case followed and Dorsey Dixon’s rights as the songwriter to receive royalties were recognized, although Acuff’s hit version gave him much success by that time and Dorsey Dixon’s earnings were meager.
Would any readers have any ideas of other local musicians who might make the grade for a wall mural?
Helen Cox is a former journalist and educator in Richmond County.