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Are there any famous musicians from Wilmington?

Ben Steelman
Charlie Daniels

Charlie Daniels unveils his star on Wilmington's Walk of Fame with the help of former UNCW chancellor James Leutze in 2001. (StarNews file photo)

A few have gained reputations beyond the region.

Country fiddler extraordinaire Charlie Daniels was born Oct. 28, 1936, in Wilmington and spent many of his early years in Leland and in Wilmington’s Sunset Park neighborhood. (There’s a brief, funny reminiscence of his early days in the introduction to his 1985 book “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”)

Daniels, who helped invent Southern rock and who scored hits with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” “The Ballad of Uneasy Rider,” “In America” and “Long-Haired Country Boy” practiced his chops on guitar, bass and fiddle at local clubs.

All of the Heath Brothers had Wilmington ties, but jazz bassist Percy Heath’s (1923-2005) were the closest. Heath was born in Wilmington on April 23, 1923, and while he spent most of his childhood in Philadelphia, he came home to attend Williston Industrial High School.

A “Tuskegee airman” in World War II, Heath played with Dizzy Gillespie’s big band and was a longtime member of the Modern Jazz Quartet. During an active career, Heath also played with Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Milt Jackson and Thelonious Monk.

Although born in Greenville, S.C., on Aug. 17, 1948, operatic bass-baritone John Cheek grew up in Wilmington (his father was the principal of the old Snipes Elementary School) and studied voice at the N.C. School of the Arts.

Cheek made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1977 and has appeared in more than 300 Met performances, including roles in “Don Giovanni,” “La Boheme,” “The Magic Flute,” “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Faust,” “Cosi fan tutte,” “Les Troyens” and “La Clemenza di Tito.” He has also sung with the Los Angeles Opera, Houston Opera, Seattle Opera, Quebec Opera and Pittsburgh Opera and with symphony orchestras across the country.

Tift Merritt (born Jan. 8, 1975) grew up in Raleigh but lived in Wilmington for several years in the 1990s. The singer-songwriter bridges the folk, rock and alternative country camps, and has been compared to Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris.

Actress (“Dawson’s Creek”) and 2000 N.C. Azalea Queen Nina Repeta was born in Shelby but has settled near the Cape Fear beaches in recent years. Repeta has lately returned to her musical roots, performing in cabaret settings and recording a contemporary Christian LP “Good to Me” in 2010.

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3 Responses to “ Are there any famous musicians from Wilmington?”

  1. On March 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm Duane Hogan wrote:

    Aludley Freed grew up in Burgaw … he formed the band “Cry Of Love” … was a member of the “Black Crowes” and has toured with and played with many artist, including Jimmy Page, Peter Frampton, The Dixie Chicks, Joe Perry … and the list goes on and on.

  2. On March 7, 2012 at 10:59 am James wrote:

    Chapter 3 rappers are from Wilmington N.C. all 3 of them attended Jr. and HS here in Wilmington. Trask Jr High and Laney High School. One is Rhonda Bellamys brother.

  3. On May 16, 2012 at 10:23 pm Bob McKeithan wrote:

    John Cheek and I have been good friends ever since our days at Chestnut Junior High (now Snipes Middle School) and I was close to his family. To my knowledge, his father A. Lawrence Cheek, Jr. was not principal at Chestnut unless it was prior to my being there and knowing the family. He was, however, long time principal at Sunset Junior High

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