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2023 North Carolina Heritage Awards (2023 Down Home Concerts)

Wednesday, May 31, 2023 @ 7:30 pm - 10:30 pm
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Man on stage singing in front of full theater audience.

Six distinguished folk artists from across the state will be honored during this evening is a celebration of traditional music and arts in North Carolina. The event will feature performances, displays, documentary film and a marketplace in the lobby of the AJ Fletcher Opera Theater in the Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts.

“North Carolina’s traditional arts continue to reflect a unique sense of place and lived experiences of our diverse people,” Governor Cooper said while announcing this years recipients.

“The Heritage Awards are an opportunity to celebrate exceptional people who keep and nurture traditional creative practice, but through them, we also honor the cultural contributions of their entire communities,” said State Arts Council’s Folklife Director Zoe van Buren.

The 2023 North Carolina Heritage Award Winners are:

photo by Zoe van Buren

Old Time fiddler Richard Bowman – He was born and raised on the North Carolina/Virginia border in Ararat, Virginia, and now lives in Mount Airy, North Carolina, where he is at the heart of the region’s old-time music and dance community. Bowman learned to play the autoharp from his mother, and later learned from some of the most influential musicians in the area to play the fiddle. He has been a member of several significant local groups: the Pine River Boys with Maybelle Lewis; the Slate Mountain Ramblers; and the Round Peak Band, which was instrumental in popularizing and spreading the “round peak” string-band sound specific to Surry County and its surrounding communities in North Carolina and Virginia. There’s more about Richard here.

Muralist Cornelio Campos – He is one of the state’s most celebrated traditional painters and muralists. Hailing from Cherán, Michoacán, Mexico, Campos is a Purepecha, an officially recognized indigenous people with their own language. As a child, Campos absorbed his community’s rich cultural traditions, working as an apprentice with a local artist into his teenage years. Following family and better opportunity to the United States, he developed as an artist while living in Los Angeles, and then settled permanently in North Carolina. For the first 10 years here, Campos labored as a farmworker and was unable to paint. The opportunity to begin a career as an electrician allowed him to paint again, and Campos found new purpose and joy.

photos by Zoe van Buren

Master Cherokee artisans Butch and Louise Goings – Louise is a basketmaker and Butch is a carver. Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, they are known in their community as keepers of many Cherokee traditions and cultural and historical knowledge. They continue to pass that knowledge on both informally and through cultural events, community workshops, and youth programs. Louise learned to harvest white oak and make baskets from her mother, the 1989 Heritage Award recipient Emma Taylor. Working with natural dyes and oak she harvests herself, Louise gained an understanding of the plants, places, and ecosystems of the southern Appalachians that enabled her to be self-sufficient as a basketmaker. Butch was a student of the carver Amanda Crowe, who won a Heritage Award in 2000. Together, the couple are widely known as resources on Cherokee language, dance, cooking, gardening, and the traditional values of mutual support and sharing.

photo by Zoe van Buren

Bluegrass and Gospel musician Rhonda Gouge – She lives in the small community of Ledger, in Mitchell County, where she has been teaching music for more than 50 years. Gouge’s earliest musical mentor was the fiddle and banjo player Oscar “Red” Wilson, her great-uncle by marriage, who received a Heritage Award in 2003. He taught her the traditional fiddle tunes of the area and helped her with her first recording, which was done in his home studio. Gouge worked with Wilson for many years as a recording session musician; as a member of his band, the Toe River Valley Boys; and performing with him as a duo in churches and at community functions. Although Gouge worked full-time at a local factory for almost two decades, she continued to teach an increasing number of students and remained musically active. There’s more about Rhonda here.

photo by Zoe van Buren

Piedmont Basketmaker Neal Thomas – When he was about 20 years old, Neal Thomas and his brothers learned the craft of split white-oak basketmaking from an older man in Johnston County who made and sold baskets. He learned the process one step at a time—first by watching, then by doing. Basketmaking traditions in North Carolina have Native American, European, and African origins, each culture influencing the others, but the sturdy, utilitarian, split-oak baskets that Thomas learned to make have been undervalued because they are the “workhorse” of baskets, used to hold everything from livestock to home goods. White oak grows abundantly in the North Carolina Piedmont, but it is laborious to process and increasingly hard for Thomas to source as land around his Wake County home is clear-cut for development. Making a basket in the traditional way requires the knowledge and the physical stamina to identify a good tree, harvest it, and hand-draw it into splits, all before the weaving can begin. The result is a basket so strong that it can hold the weight of an adult human being. Without glue, written plans, or pre-made forms, Thomas makes baskets that last a lifetime.

The North Carolina Heritage Awards are given out by the State Arts Council, an agency of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Over 130 artists including Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Etta Baker and Ray Hicks have been honored since the Heritage Awards were established in 1989.


Wednesday, May 31, 2023
7:30 pm - 10:30 pm
Event Category:


A.J. Fletcher Theater
2 E. South Street
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