Smithsonian exhibit comes to Warrenton

At 3 p.m. on May 1 at Warrenton’s Warren County Memorial Library, the traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibition New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music kicks-off the second leg of its year-long tour through North Carolina.

The day’s opening festivities, which are free and open to the public, include a ribbon-cutting, reception, exhibit tour, and live music. Performances scheduled are gospel by the Bullock Family, blues by Joe B. Cutchins, bluegrass by Alan Reid, and folk/Americana by Mandolin Orange. Presenters include Terry Henderson, Acting Director of the Warren County Memorial Library, Sherman Johnson of the Warren County Arts Council, North Carolina Humanities Council Executive Director Shelley Crisp, Humanities Council Program Associate Darrell Stover, and folklorist Mike Taylor. Among the elected officials attending are U.S. Congressman G.K. Butterfield, state Representative Michael Wray, state Senator Floyd B. McKissick, Jr., and Warren County Commissioner Ernie Fleming. New Harmonies will remain on display in Warrenton until June 12, when it travels to its third site, Elizabeth City, to open there on June 19.

The Museum on Main Street (MoMS) program New Harmonies is a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and the North Carolina Humanities Council, a Greensboro-based nonprofit and the statewide affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Sponsors of complementary New Harmonies programming include the North Carolina Arts Council, the Warren County Board of Commissioners, and the Warren County Community Foundation. New Harmonies honors the distinct musical traditions of the U.S. and North Carolina with interactive kiosks displaying instruments as varied as the fiddle, accordion, drums, and diddley bow. The exhibit features artifacts including vintage sheet music, photographs, and program bills. A listening station encourages visitors to experience blues, country, gospel, folk, and other traditional music genres music first-hand.

Warrenton is one of only six NC sites chosen to house the exhibit in 2010. Stover, Statewide Coordinator of MoMS, calls Warrenton “a hotbed of North Carolina’s musical heritage that has yet to be truly harvested, a waiting community full of history and music.” Stover cites such extraordinary yet often over-looked home-grown artists as the Warrenton Echoes, Bullock Family, and Royal Jubilee Singers. He points to the vital musical and dance legacy carried on by Warren County’s Haliwa-Saponi Tribe and to the groundbreaking community work of WVSP (“Voices Serving People”) 90.9 FM.

Warren County Memorial Library’s Emily Shaw, a native of the area, says, “I would never imagine that something as prestigious as a Smithsonian Institution exhibit would come anywhere close to this area. That sort of thing only comes to metropolitan areas like Raleigh, Greensboro, or Charlotte. The fact that this exhibit is not only coming here, but was designed for small rural areas is what, in my opinion, really makes New Harmonies special. It shows that just because you live in a small town with minimal resources does not necessarily mean you have to lack in cultural resources.”  

The Warren County Memorial Library has designed special programming and activities to enhance New Harmonies. A highlight of that programming will be a musical showcase on May 8 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the newly renovated Warren County Armory Civic Center. Radio host Sherman Johnson will join Frieda D. Egerton of the Ridgeway Opry House to intersperse historical commentary during a round-robin of over fifteen local artists performing Native American drum and dance, early American traditional, country, bluegrass, blues, jazz, and gospel. The Armory Musical Showcase will culminate in a whole-group performance. Johnson says, “Warren County is a place I’ve called home for the past thirty-three years. The Armory event will allow some of our area’s most talented artists from different ethnic backgrounds to come together and share their love of music.”

Mike Taylor, a folklorist commissioned by the North Carolina Arts Council to conduct fieldwork about the music and musicians of Warren County, comments, “The thing that became immediately apparent during the course of my journeys through Warren County was that there was no one monolithic story about its music, but rather many stories.” At some points, Taylor observes, the stories “dovetail.” Other times “the musical communities in Warren County remain separate and distinct.” The Armory Musical Showcase offers an opportunity for the diverse community of Warren County to witness some “mind-blowing performances,” but also to engage in conversation about memories the music evokes, and, Taylor says, “This conversation is what I think the concert at the Armory is all about.”

For further detail on New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music in Warrenton, contact Emily Shaw at 252.257.4990, ext. 203 or

For the full 2010 New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots tour, which ends in late December, see

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The North Carolina Humanities Council is a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Humanities Council supports through grants and public programs vital conversations that nurture the cultures and heritage of North Carolina. In addition to grants and publications, the Council offers the Teachers Institute, a free professional education development program for NC’s K-12 public school teachers; Road Scholars, a speakers bureau bringing scholars and NC communities together to explore issues in the public humanities; Let’s Talk About It, a library discussion series of literature and film in partnership with the North Carolina Center for the Book; Museum on Main Street (MoMS), a traveling exhibition in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution and rural NC towns statewide; NC Roadwork, an initiative encouraging the examination of local NC history related to routes of human passage; and Literature and Medicine, a scholar-facilitated book discussion group for hospital staff to reflect on the larger mission of medicine. Learn more about the work of the North Carolina Humanities Council at