The Legendary Grady Cole

WBT announcer Grady Cole, early 1950s

I became familiar with WBT Radio announcer Grady Cole’s lovable, memorable mug early on in my work with the Morton collection, but haven’t been able to find out much about him (other than the fact that a civic center in Charlotte bears his name).
There is a brief bio of Cole on page 50 of Making a Difference in North Carolina (where the image above also appears), which reads in part:

WBT Radio’s greatest star (and money maker), was an original, laid-back performer who dominated the morning air waves for over 25 years. “He talked with people, not at them,” says Charles H. Crutchfield, “and listeners believed in him and whatever he was selling.”

WBT Radio's Grady Cole at desk, early 1950s
Then I discovered the wonderful website BT Memories, an archival web project by and for former employees of WBT/WBTV Charlotte. This well-designed site is a treasure trove of photos, videos, articles, and reminiscences from the Jefferson-Pilot-owned stations. It’s here that I found a hilarious recording of Cole made during his noontime farm report. (Go to the Sound Vault and scroll down to “Breakups and Screwups” if you want to listen, but be warned — the clip contains some spicy language).
What a voice, and a personality! I can see why he was so popular.

Perhaps former WBT employees can share some Grady Cole stories, or help identify the some of the folks in the image below, taken at the celebration of Cole’s 25th anniversary at WBT (in what year)?
Party for Grady Cole's 25th anniversary at WBT Radio, 1950s
UPDATE, 11/10/08: Following up on Lew Powell’s comment about the pinback button — Linda Jacobson from the NCC Gallery provided me with the scan below, and it IS in fact the one worn by the woman in the photo above. Yahoo!

Who Am I?–Camp Yonahnoka Edition

"Professor" Hugh Morton and photography student at Camp Yonahnoka, early 1940s

A few weeks back, we heard from someone who was a photography student of Hugh Morton’s at Camp Yonahnoka in the early 1940s. He said in his email, “if you have any photographs taken prior to Morton’s WWII service, especially those with young boys in them, I might be able to help identify some people and places.”
Well, yes—we do have a few of those. A few HUNDRED, that is! Here’s just a small sampling. We’d love to hear from our email correspondent, as well as from anyone who attended Yonahnoka and may have memories or identifications to share.
Is this, as I suspect, an image of the darkroom at Camp Yonahnoka?
Boy developing prints in Camp Yonahnoka darkroom?, early 1940s
Of course, no camp is complete without a campfire. I’d love to know what’s going on in the first image below . . .
Campfire scene at Camp Yonahnoka, early 1940s

Marshmallow roast at Camp Yonahnoka, early 1940s

The image below looks like something from “Survivor.” (It was in an envelope labeled “Canoe Tilt”).
"Canoe Tilt," Camp Yonahnoka, early 1940s
And finally, it appears the boys were encouraged to develop their artistic as well as athletic abilities. In case you can’t make them out, the sign above the mic in the first image reads “NAZI,” and the sheet music on the piano in the bottom image is for a Glenn Miller tune called “Moonlight Cocktail,” a big hit in 1942— listen to it here! (Judging from the reaction of the boy at the piano, perhaps this particular performance left something to be desired).
Boy performing in skit at Camp Yonahnoka, early 1940s
Band performance at Camp Yonahnoka, early 1940s

Who Am I?—Ryder Cup edition

I don’t follow or play golf myself, but I did hear the news this weekend that the United States won its first Ryder Cup since 1999. That reminded me of some Hugh Morton images from the 1951 Ryder Cup, played in Pinehurst, N.C. (which the U.S. also won).

Members of 1951 U.S. Ryder Cup team

I have a list of the team members (below), but can anyone help me attach names to faces in these images? I know a few of them, and could probably fill the rest in a bit of research, but I thought I’d test the golf knowledge of our readership.
Team United States (list from Wikipedia): Sam Snead (Captain), Clayton Heafner, Ed Oliver, Ben Hogan, Jack Burke, Jr., Henry Ransom, Lloyd Mangrum, Jimmy Demaret, Skip Alexander

Members of 1951 U.S. Ryder Cup Team

Who Am I? – Highland Games edition

Every year, the second full weekend in July sees the arrival near Linville, NC of the largest collection of Scoto-philes in Eastern America . . . As North Carolina’s largest Tartan Jamboree, this Track & Field, Bagpipes and Highland Dance extravaganza must arguably be America’s ultimate spree in ethnic indulgence.

This quote comes from page 1 of a recently-published book, America’s Braemar: Grandfather Mountain and the Re-birth of Scottish Identity Across America, by Donald MacDonald (2007). MacDonald, first President and co-founder of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games (with Hugh Morton’s mother, Agnes MacRae Morton), has written what surely must be a definitive history—at 487 single-spaced pages, I can’t imagine anyone having more to say! (I only wish it had an index.) The book, which is heavily illustrated with Morton photos, can be ordered online.

With the 53rd annual Games coming up this weekend, I’m hoping readers can help identify some of these Morton images. Perhaps, even if you don’t recognize the people involved (or they’re too small to see), you can tell us about the events depicted? What are your Highland Games memories? (I’ve only attended once, as a child, and pretty much all I remember is that it rained really, really hard). I do know that the two images below were taken at the very first Games, in 1956.

The man shaking the runner’s hand below I know to be N. J. (Nestor Joseph) MacDonald, President of the Games from 1962 to 1977—Morton photographed him often. Any ideas on the runners?

And lastly, I assume this man is singing? Or bellowing? Or doing some kind of highland yodel?

Who Am I?–North Carolina Azalea Festival Edition

Azalea blossomsWilmington’s 61st annual North Carolina Azalea Festival kicks off next week (April 9-13). Hugh Morton played an integral role in the event’s founding: while only in his twenties, he was selected to serve as president of the inaugural festival in 1948. (A letter from Morton on the festival’s website explains that when he missed a committee meeting, they responded by electing him president). As Susan Taylor Block writes in “Clan MacRae,” an article in the 4/2007 issue of Wrightsville Beach magazine, Morton deserves credit not only for Wilmington’s Azalea Festival, but also many of its azalea plants:

Morton had worked diligently since 1946 to make the 1948 Azalea Festival debut a success. He encouraged Wilmingtonians to plant azaleas, persuaded the local government to plant an additional 175,000 azaleas at Greenfield Lake and recruited garden clubs to transplant azaleas from their own private gardens to public spaces. Morton encouraged the festival fathers to be careful stewards of the event’s ticket take, seek out quality in celebrity guests and make the azalea itself the guest of honor. He knew that if the first festival ended up in the red, it would be the last.

North Carolina Azalea Festival negatives in the Morton collection are numerous and mostly in good shape, but not well-documented. The early years of the festival (from 1948 to about 1958) are best represented, but little identifying information is provided other than the year (if that). Fortunately, we have at least one good source to work from—historian Block’s 2004 book Belles & Blooms, heavily illustrated by Morton’s photos. Block’s time line will help us pin down some of the major details, like who was queen in what year, what celebrities attended, etc.
In the meantime, though, we’re asking you to help us put names to faces in some of these early shots.
Unidentified celebrities at the Azalea Festival, Wilmington, NC, ca. early 1950s
Judging from the enormous fur coat and all the cameras pointed at them, I’m guessing that these people are famous. But who are they?
Azalea Festival group at the airport, Wilmington, NC, 1950
The image above was taken at the 1950 Azalea Festival. I can’t read any of the name tags, but I do see that the man on the far right (in the headdress) has a program from “Unto These Hills” (an outdoor drama performed at Cherokee, North Carolina) in his pocket.
Grady Cole (L) and unidentified woman holding up an X-ray, Wilmington, NC, ca. early 1950s
The man in this photo is Grady Cole, talk radio celebrity with WBT Radio in Charlotte, North Carolina (and frequent Morton photo subject in the early 1950s). But who is the woman—and is she the same woman from the previous photo? Most importantly, why are they holding up what looks like an x-ray of somebody’s spine?!

"Happy John": Not that happy?

Scene from “Singing on the Mountain,” Grandfather Mountain, ca. 1957
I recently had this fantastic image scanned as a possible submission for the cover of College & Research Libraries News, as (yet another) way to publicize the Morton collection—but I thought it was too good not to share on the blog as well. Morton took this photo on Grandfather at Singing on the Mountain (“the oldest ongoing old time gospel convention left in the Southern Appalachians”) in about 1957. I love the colors, the hats, the bustle of activity, and the variety of people’s postures and expressions— especially the fact that neither Happy John nor his assistant (with the microphone) look particularly happy.
In “History of the Great Singing on the Mountain,” a circa 1949 pamphlet held by the North Carolina Collection and written by Joe Lee Hartley, longtime Chairman of the Sing, I see a mention on page 12 of “that old esteemed and lovable friend John Cable from Butler, Tennessee, who has always attended and helped out in the work of the Lord and we all hope some day to meet him in Glory.” Is John Cable Happy John, perhaps?
This image really makes you curious about the stories of the people pictured in it. Can anyone provide those stories? Is there someone here you recognize?
UPDATE 5/13/2008: I’ve been able to gather a bit more info about John Wesley “Happy John” Coffey, thanks to his granddaughter Thelma Coffey of Blowing Rock, NC, and to Jerry Burns, editor of the local paper The Blowing Rocket. Jerry sent me a copy of an article by Ruby P. Ellis called “Remembering Happy John” that originally appeared in “a state newspaper in the 1950s” (re-run in the Rocket in October 2006). From the editor’s note for the 2006 reprint:

Happy John Coffey remains a legend in the mountains and is considered one of the pioneer musicians whose tunes reflected the deepest roots of the mountaineer—his tragedies, his sorrows, and his happy-go-lucky lifestyle. Happy John, as best we can find out, was born in the early 1870s and lived until around 1967. He was the most important attraction in the settlement at the time and as Blowing Roc becase chartered as a villave in 1889 and until he died, Happy John continued to draw the attention of visitors who delighted in listening to his music played on a contraption he built himself that he called his “mountain harp.”

From Ruby Ellis’ article we learn that a since childhood burn prevented Happy John from being able to pick a banjo or bow a fiddle, he invented his own instruments and “picks” (kind of a combination of an autoharp and a hammer dulcimer). He was a fixture at “Singing on the Mountain,” usually performing with his brother Roby Coffey on fiddle (pictured in the red cap above), and could often be found at the Blue Moon filling station near Blowing Rock “an hour or two each day ‘pickin’ and singin’ for the folk.'”
A wealth of genealogical information about Happy John and many other Coffeys/Coffees can be found on the blog Coffey/Coffee Call. Thanks to all (Jerry, Thelma, Robert Hartley) for contributing information, and please share whatever else you may know!

Who Am I?—Jazz Edition

In Stephen’s post from last November 6, New Orleans, 1945, he mentioned a set of big band photos (featuring Benny Goodman) that Morton took sometime in/around his college years. Having sorted through most of the negatives at least once, I’ve been wondering where the heck those big band photos were . . . until last Thursday, when I found at least some of them, in an envelope labeled “Orchestras” and smushed in the bottom of a particularly dirty, messy box of film. [Editor’s Note: You may not find “smush” in your dictionary, but a Google search found 384,000 references in 0.07 seconds and a jazz piece must be hep—even if the word goes back to the early 19th century.]

Benny Goodman orchestra performing in Washington, DC, late 1930s-early 1940s

None of the “Orchestras” photos are labeled, however, and my knowledge of jazz history is severely limited. I was able to identify Goodman (above) thanks to the clarinet, the big “G,” and—duh—the fact that Morton photographed a poster for the event that touts the Benny Goodman Orchestra’s “First Time on Any Washington Stage”:

Poster for Benny Goodman orchestra performance in Washington, DC, late 1930s-early 1940s

The strip of images below proved a little more tricky, but not much. When I zoomed in on the kick drum, I was able to read this inscription: “‘To The Bobcats—Jeff Keate.” A bit of Googling revealed that Jeff Keate was a cartoonist, and the Bobcats (or Bob Cats) were a Dixieland group made up of members from the Bob Crosby (brother of Bing Crosby) Orchestra. This information led me to identify Ray Bauduc on drums and Bob Haggart on bass, and to discover that Bauduc and Haggart wrote two big hits in the late 1930s: “South Rampart Street Parade,” and “Big Noise from Winnetka” (a bass and drums duet, which they were probably performing when Morton took these very photos). Thanks to YouTube, you can watch a fully orchestrated 1943 performance of the song! (Keep an eye out for that kick drum, and stay tuned for the Haggart/Bauduc solo in the middle). [OK, another Editor’s Note: you just have to check out the YouTube clip!]

Unidentified jazz drummer and upright bassist, circa late 1930s-early 1940s

Unfortunately, such helpful visual clues are few and far between. So, I decided to make this the inaugural post in a series I am inventively titling “Who Am I?” I picked out a few of Morton’s jazz photos, and am hoping to enlist readers’ help in identifying some of the musicians pictured below. I’m not sure if these were groups/artists that played in North Carolina (e.g., at UNC-Chapel Hill), or if Morton traveled to see them (as he did Goodman in Washington DC). I have no idea if these are big name players or unknown locals, but I am fairly certain that they were taken in the 1940s or early 1950s. Any ideas?

Unidentified jazz drummer, circa 1940s-early 1950s

Unidentified jazz saxophonist, circa 1940s-early 1950s

Unidentified jazz drummer, circa 1940s-early 1950s

UPDATE, 3/3/08: Here are two more photos that may shed additional light on the Jo Jones/Herschel Evans/Count Basie Orchestra possibility. The first image below was taken at the same event as the saxophonist image above (looks like a house party of some kind), and shows some of the other players. The second image below was taken at the same event as the image above with the drummer (Jones?) sitting behind his kit. (This event appears to be in an auditorium).

Unidentified jazz group, circa 1940s-early 1950s

Unidentified jazz drummer, circa 1940s-early 1950s, with man (bass player?) looking on