| or Call: (404) 627-4734

Tweet Me!

North Carolina

Musical Pioneers in the Wilderness known particularly for old-time music

State Spotlight

North Carolina

Became a state on..... November 21, 1789

Southern Genres..... Folk, Country, Bluegrass, Gospel, Country, Spirituals, Blues, Funk, Southern Hip-Hop, Jazz, R&B, Southern Rock.

A fertile meeting ground for European and African music traditions, the North Carolina mountains and foothills still ring with the sounds of the fiddle, banjo, string bands, and cloggers, which can be heard everywhere from front porches to festival stages and town squares. Traditional mountain music includes lively strains of old-time, bluegrass, ballad singing, blues, and sacred music. Appalachian mountain music includes many instruments, styles and sounds, but bluegrass music is often honored and celebrated as a piece of Appalachian history. 

One of the 13 colonies

"Different Kinds of Music in the Mountains"

North Carolina is a state in the southeastern region of the United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west, Virginia to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. North Carolina is the 28th most extensive and the 9th most populous of the 50 United States. North Carolina is known as the Tar Heel State and the Old North State.

The state is composed of 100 counties. Its two largest metropolitan areas are among the top ten fastest-growing in the country: its capital, Raleigh, and its largest city, Charlotte. In the past five decades, North Carolina's economy has undergone a transition from reliance upon tobacco, textiles, and furniture-making to a more diversified economy with engineering, energy, biotechnology, and finance sectors.

Woodland-culture American Indians were in the area around 1000 BCE; starting around 750 CE, Mississippian-culture Indians created larger political units with stronger leadership and more stable, longer-term settlements. During this time, important buildings were constructed as pyramidal, flat-topped buildings. By 1550, many groups of American Indians lived in present-day North Carolina, including Chowanoke, Roanoke, Pamlico, Machapunga, Coree, Cape Fear Indians, Waxhaw, Waccamaw, and Catawba.

Juan Pardo explored the area in 1566-1567, establishing Fort San Juan in 1567 at the site of the Native American community of Joara, a Mississippian culture regional chiefdom in the western interior, near the present-day city of Morganton. The fort lasted only 18 months; the local inhabitants killed all but one of the 120 men Pardo had stationed at a total of six forts in the area. A later expedition by Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe followed in 1584, at the direction of Sir Walter Raleigh.

In June 1718, the pirate Blackbeard ran his flagship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, aground at Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina, in present-day Carteret County. After the grounding her crew and supplies were transferred to smaller ships. In November, after appealing to the governor of North Carolina, who promised safe-haven and a pardon, Blackbeard was killed in an ambush by troops from Virginia. In 1996 Intersal, Inc., a private firm, discovered the remains of a vessel likely to be the Queen Anne's Revenge, which was added to the US National Register of Historic Places.

North Carolina became one of the English Thirteen Colonies and with the territory of South Carolina was originally known as the Province of Carolina. The northern and southern parts of the original province separated in 1729. Originally settled by small farmers, sometimes having a few slaves, who were oriented toward subsistence agriculture, the colony lacked cities or towns. Pirates menaced the coastal settlements, but by 1718 the pirates had been captured and killed. Growth was strong in the middle of the 18th century, as the economy attracted Scots-Irish, Quaker, English and German immigrants. The colonists generally supported the American Revolution, as the number of Loyalists was smaller than in some other colonies.

Music of North Carolina

"State Song"

The state song of North Carolina is "The Old North State," adopted by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1927. The song's title refers to North Carolina's nickname, "old north state," which is one of many state emblems. Both the title and the lyrics about enduring the "scorner" and "witling" depict the struggle North Carolina endured in territory boundary disputes and a series of economic setbacks during its formative years. While the words, written by William Gaston, remained the same, the music evolved over the years with multiple renditions in existence. In 1926, Raleigh resident Mrs. E. E. Randolph arranged the music, incorporating the standardized tune by which the state song of North Carolina is known today.

Judge William Gaston, a plantation owner and member of the state supreme court, was residing in the city of Raleigh during the 1835 judicial session. Several women in the household sang a song they had learned while attending a concert of Swiss bell ringers. Judge Gaston, enchanted with the tune, composed the verses to "The Old North State" to accompany the music. The song caught the ears of North Carolinians several years later when when a choir of young ladies sang it during a presidential rally for William Henry Harrison. The lyrics to the state song of North Carolina display patriotic pride and a hint of the difficulty the state experienced after the wars with Great Britain and a severe decrease in population and prestige.

William Gaston, from whom is named the city of Gastonia and Gaston County, took pride in the state song of North Carolina. His song includes words of defending the state, despite setbacks and scorners, and sings of its great liberty and hospitality to sons and strangers alike. The lyrics also lend personal perspective from the writer as a supreme court judge, with Gaston's proclamations of North Carolina's "just rule" and "too true to herself to e'er to crouch to oppression." Unlike many other state songs that herald the natural resources and beauties of their states, "The Old North State" focuses on the graciousness and beauty of its people "where plenty and peace, love and joy smile before us."

In 1663, Charles II of England established a colony in the New World, named Carolina in honor of his father. By the early 1700s, dissent and rebellion over local politics caused the colony to fracture into two separate royal territories: North Carolina and South Carolina. North Carolina adopted the nickname "Old North State" to differentiate it from South Carolina. The early years were turbulent for the fledgling state. After the American War for Independence from Great Britain and with the expansion of the American west in the early 1800s, North Carolina endured a dwindling population and reputation as an impoverished state with little opportunity.

Early 20th Century

North Carolina is known particularly for its tradition of old-time music, and many recordings were made in the early 20th century by folk song collector Bascom Lamar Lunsford. Most influentially, North Carolina country musicians like the North Carolina Ramblers and Al Hopkins helped solidify the sound of country music in the late 1920s, while influential bluegrass musicians such as Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson and Del McCoury came from North Carolina. Arthur Smith is the most notable North Carolina musician/entertainer who had the first nationally syndicated television program which featured country music. Smith composed "Guitar Boogie", the all-time best selling guitar instrumental, and "Dueling Banjos", the all-time best selling banjo composition. Country rock star Eric Church from the Hickory area has had 2 #1 albums on the Billboard 200, including Chief in 2011. Both North and South Carolina are a hotbed for traditional country blues, especially the style known as the Piedmont blues. Elizabeth Cotten, from Chapel Hill, was active in the American folk music revival.

As a college region, the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area (collectively known as the Triangle) has long been a well-known center for indie rock, metal, punk and hip-hop. Bands from this popular music scene include The Avett Brothers, Flat Duo Jets, Corrosion of Conformity, Superchunk, Archers of Loaf, The Rosebuds, The Love Language, Tift Merritt, Ben Folds Five, Squirrel Nut Zippers, The Butchies, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Lords of the Underground, The Apple Juice Kid, Between the Buried and Me, Foreign Exchange, The Justus League, Spider Bags, and Little Brother.

Early Black String Band Music

Slave musicians in North Carolina and throughout the country were often responsible for providing the dance music for both white and African American social gatherings. If a slave was trained as a musician, their value as property went up for their masters. String bands were formed to accompany the social dancing. After slaves were given their freedom, small communities of blacks began to form in the North Carolina Piedmont region. One of these communities outside of Statesville, North Carolina had enough of a fiddler population to support a fiddler’s convention. Joe Thompson, an African American fiddler who died in 2012, is from the Cedar Grove community in North Carolina. The banjo was another popular instrument for African Americans to play in a string band. The banjo is an instrument adapted from its African relative the akonting, and younger black musicians often learned to play from older community members. One black musician, Joe Fulp, from the Walnut Cove community used the banjo to help pass the time while waiting for tobacco to cure. String Bands of the North Carolina Piedmont region had their own sound consisting of long bow fiddle playing, flowing banjo lines, and a prominent bass line provided by the guitar, an instrument added to the ensemble in the early 20th century. The style of Piedmont string bands was influenced by the dance tune melodies of Europe and the rhythmic complexity of African banjo playing.

Gospel Music

North Carolina is also considered a cradle of Gospel music. The Moravians who established the town of Winston-Salem had published Europe's first hymnal in the 15th century, and had brought from the Czech Republic and Saxony many instruments including skills to build pipe organs. Music was an integral part of community life. Everyone participated in brass bands and knew the songs which told of births, deaths and other events. The Moravian Music Foundation in Old Salem contains the archive of these materials.

In the days of slavery, spirituals played a huge role in the lives of the slaves of North Carolina elite, and after emancipation, this stayed true. During the 1940s and 50s, North Carolina was a favorite place to visit of Gospel singers for many reasons, among which was North Carolina's less rigorous Jim Crow laws. North Carolina is also home to many famous Gospel singers, the most famous being Shirley Caesar, known as the "First Lady Of Gospel". Caesar got her start when the group The Caravans came through Wilson, North Carolina in 1958. North Carolina is also famous for its abundance of family Gospel groups which thrive all throughout the state. Award-winning vocal group The Kingsmen originate in Asheville.

Piedmont Blues

The Piedmont blues is a type of blues music characterized by a unique finger-picking method on the guitar in which a regular, alternating-thumb bass pattern supports a melody using treble strings. Blind Boy Fuller (b. Fulton Allen, Wadesboro, NC, July 10, 1907) was a popular Piedmont blues guitarist, who played for tips outside tobacco warehouses in Durham during the 1930s. Fuller recorded more than 120 sides during the second half of the 1930s. Floyd Council (b. Chapel Hill, NC, February 9, 1911) sometimes busked with Fuller. South Carolina-born Piedmont blues musician Rev. Gary Davis also played in Durham in the 1930s when the city had a thriving black business community and an emerging black middle class. Singer and guitarist Carolina Slim (b. Edward P. Hughes, Leasburg, NC, August 22, 1923) also worked as a musician around Durham. Etta Baker, Piedmont blues singer/guitarist/banjoist, (b. Etta Reid, March 31, 1913, Caldwell County, NC) was first recorded in 1956. Singer, guitarist, and songwriter John Dee Holeman (b. Hillsborough, NC, April 4, 1929) has been based in Durham since 1954.

Jazz Musicians

Several notable jazz musicians were originally from North Carolina. In the case of Thelonious Monk, (b. Rocky Mount, NC, October 10, 1917) the North Carolina connection is slight, as Monk's family moved to Manhattan when Monk was four. John Coltrane (b. Hamlet, NC, September 23, 1926) spent most of his childhood in High Point, NC, before moving to Philadelphia when he was sixteen. Bebop pioneer Max Roach was born in Newland, but like Monk, moved with his family to New York City when he was four. Other jazz musicians from North Carolina include guitarist Tal Farlow (b. Greensboro, NC, 6/7/21), considered one of the top players during the 1950s. Hard-bop saxophonists Lou Donaldson (b. Badin, NC, 11/1/26) and Tina Brooks (b. Fayetteville, NC, 6/7/32) were originally North Carolinians. Hard-bop trumpeter Woody Shaw (b. Laurinburg, NC, 12/24/44), pianist Billy Taylor (b. Greenville, NC, 7/24/21), saxophonist and flautist Harold Vick (b. Rocky Mount, NC, April 3, 1936), pianist and singer dubbed the "High Priestess of Soul" Dr. Nina Simone (b. Tryon, NC, 2/21/33), alto saxophonist Tab Smith (b. Kinston, NC, 1/11/1909), bassist Percy Heath (b. Wilmington, NC, 4/30/23), and singer June Tyson (b. Albemarle, NC, 2/5/1936) were born in the state as well. South Carolinian Dizzy Gillespie grew up just over the state line and attended school at the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina. Jazz composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn spent some of his summers in Hillsborough, NC with his grandparents.

Southern Rock

Rock and roll guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist Link Wray, who first came to popularity in the late 1950s, was born in Dunn. The platinum-selling post-grunge band Daughtry is from a suburb of Greensboro. Daughtry has had 2 #1 albums on the Billboard 200, including Daughtry (album) in 2006.

Chapel Hill's music scene dates back to the 1950s, and really began to take off in the 60s, when the Cat's Cradle Coffeehouse nurtured local folk activity. One of the first local legends, The Corsayers (later The Fabulous Corsairs) - featuring Alex Taylor and younger brother James - could be heard around town. Later, Arrogance became a major part of the folk scene. James Taylor would go on to a very successful career as a singer-songwriter, and his "Carolina in My Mind" would become an unofficial anthem for the state. His song "You've Got a Friend" was a #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971. The Chapel Hill Museum opened a permanent exhibit dedicated to Taylor; at the same occasion the US-15-501 highway bridge over Morgan Creek, near the site of the Taylor family home and mentioned in Taylor's song "Copperline", was dedicated to Taylor. The Chapel Hill music scene began to pick up steam in the 1980s when bands like The Pressure Boys, The Connells, Flat Duo Jets, Southern Culture on the Skids, A Number of Things, Fetchin Bones, and Snatches of Pink began releasing their own records or signing to independent record labels.

In the late '80s through the mid-'90s and 2000's, the Chapel Hill scene reached its peak as bands such as Superchunk, Polvo, Archers of Loaf, Alternative States, Small, Zen Frisbee, Dillon Fence, Sex Police, Pipe, The Veldt, Metal Flake Mother were signed to local and national labels.

In the late 1990s, gold record and platinum success came to Chapel Hill bands Squirrel Nut Zippers and the piano pop trio Ben Folds Five.

Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill was a regional center for punk rock in the late 70s, due to its large number of college students. The first wave of bands were more power-pop than punk, and included Peter Holsapple & the H-Bombs, Sneakers, and Chris Stamey and the dBs. The punks arrived shortly after with 'th Cigaretz, The Dads, the Bad Checks, the Fabulous Knobs, Butchwax, The X-Teens, Human Furniture, and the Junkie Sluts. Later hardcore punk bands included Corrosion of Conformity, No Labels, Colcor, UNICEF, Stillborn Christians, DAMM, Bloodmobile, Subculture, Ugly Americans, 30 Foot Beast, Mission DC, the Celibate Commandos, Rights Reserved, DLW, Creeping Flesh, Time Bomb, Stations of the Cross, A Number of Things, and Oral Fixation.

Some other notable Heavy Metal acts to come from North Carolina are Alesana, Weedeater, Buzzoven, Suppressive Fire, Against Their Will, Daylight Dies, ASG, Between the Buried and Me, Lorelei, Labyrinthe, Wretched, Invoker, and Confessor,Delilah from Fayetteville N.C.

R&B, Funk, & Southern Hip-Hop

Soul singer Ruby Johnson was born in Elizabeth City. Funk singer Betty Davis was born in Durham. Singer/guitarist Chuck Brown was born in Gaston. Funkadelic guitarist Tawl Ross was born in Wagram. Saxophonist Maceo Parker and his brother drummer Melvin Parker, best known for their work with James Brown, were born in Kinston. L.T.D. formed in Greensboro.

The Triangle metropolitan area also boasts a long-standing and diverse hip-hop scene. During hip-hop's golden era in the mid-90s, the Lords of the Underground (who met while attending Shaw University), Omniscence, and Yaggfu Front were acclaimed. In 1998, Little Brother, composed of Rapper Big Pooh, Phonte, and 9th Wonder, met while attending North Carolina Central University. The successful alternative hip hop group also co-founded the Justus League collective, which features other important North Carolina emcees, including L.E.G.A.C.Y., The Away Team, Darien Brockington, Edgar Allen Floe, Chaundon, and Cesar Comanche.

Other major-label rappers and producers from North Carolina include King Mez, from Raleigh, North Carolina. King Mez was most recently featured on Dr. Dre's Compton album. J. Cole, from Fayetteville has had 3 #1 albums on the Billboard 200 including his debut Cole World: The Sideline Story.; The Apple Juice Kid, Kaze, Ski, Travis Cherry, Wan Gray, from Raleigh; and Petey Pablo, from Greenville. Rapsody, and Well-known underground act Troop 41. Driicky Graham is from Oxford.

Charlotte also has some notable rappers, including Deniro Farrar, Lute (rapper), Bettie Grind, Mr. 704, and Ruga. Charlotte's K-Ci & JoJo (of Jodeci) had 2 #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, including the R&B song "All My Life" in 1998. Also from Charlotte is R&B singer Anthony Hamilton. American Idol winner Fantasia, from High Point, had a #1 Billboard Hot 100 hit with the soul song "I Believe" in 2004.

Appalachian Music

In addition to the being the oldest mountain chain in North America, the Southern Appalachian region is full of old traditions enriched by a wide variety of people and culture. From quilting, to farming, to arts and craft, these longtime traditions have been passed down throughout the region from generation to generation, including music.

Asheville and Western North Carolina may be known for their thriving modern-day music scene, but traditions of old-time string band music, ballad singing and bluegrass date back well into the 1700s. The banjo – originally brought to America by enslaved Africans – was initially made of gourd bodies or pots, and covered in animal hide. Before the Civil War, the banjo, which was often paired with the fiddle, was a popular instrument for white and black musicians living in the Appalachian mountain region. In fact, according to the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, no other place has had more influence on the development of the banjo in America than Western North Carolina. Appalachian Music banjo over the years, the banjo became widely accepted by all Southerners, and the instrument’s physical structure also changed. Today, the two most popular banjos are the resonator banjo, often called the bluegrass banjo, due to its importance in the traditional style of bluegrass music, and the open-back banjo, which is sometimes referred to as the old-time banjo. Musicians from North Carolina’s western Piedmont and mountain region, including Earl Scruggs, Charlie Poole and Snuffy Jenkins, are recognized as the creators and popularizers of modern banjo styles.

The banjo may be one of the oldest instruments used in traditional Appalachian music, but ballad singing is considered one of the earliest styles. Ballads are typically stories set to music and usually sung unaccompanied. Its origin dates back to the 1700s, and it was first introduced to the region by immigrants from the British Isles. Traditional songs by Cherokee Indians and African Americans influenced the Anglo/Celtic music brought on by these new settlers, and many singers begun to chronicle the current events of their day in the new ballad-style format. While some ballads are simply known as love songs, many are notorious for being dark and violent, telling tales of war, treachery and loss. Madison County, North Carolina, Appalachian Music Balladry which is located about an hour north of The North Carolina Arboretum, is home to one of the longest, unbroken ballad singing traditions in America, first documented by English folk song collector Cecil Sharp prior to World War I.

While the history of Appalachian music can be traced as far back as ballad singing, its high-energy, popular bluegrass style is a bit younger. The first sounds of bluegrass were aired over the radio on February 2, 1939, by Bill Monroe, a Kentuckian known as the father of bluegrass music, and his band the Blue Grass Boys. Bluegrass incorporated many of the familiar instruments of an old-time string band, including the fiddle, guitar, banjo, mandolin and bass, but it also introduced new elements such as “breaks,” where band members would take turns playing the lead. This new style was different from the unison approach of old-time string music.


While many fans of bluegrass music date the genre to 1939, when Monroe formed his first Blue Grass Boys band, most believe that the classic bluegrass sound came together late in 1945, shortly after Earl Scruggs, a 21-year-old banjo player from North Carolina, joined the band. Scruggs played an innovative three-finger picking style on the banjo that energized enthusiastic audiences and has since come to be known as “Scruggs style” banjo. Equally influential in the classic 1945 line-up of the Blue Grass Boys were Lester Flatt, from Sparta, Tennessee, on guitar and lead vocals, Chubby Wise, from Florida, on fiddle; and Howard Watts, also known by his comedian name “Cedric Rainwater,” on acoustic bass.

When Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt formed their own group, The Foggy Mountain Boys, they decided to include the resophonic guitar, or “Dobro,” into their band format. The Dobro is often included in bluegrass band formats today as a result. Burkett H. “Uncle Josh” Graves, from Tellico Plains, Tennessee, heard Scruggs’ three-finger style of banjo picking in 1949 and adapted it to the then almost obscure slide bar instrument. With Flatt & Scruggs from 1955-1969, Graves introduced his widely emulated, driving, bluesy style on the Dobro. The Dobro was invented in the United States by the Dopyera Brothers, immigrant musicians/inventors originally from the Slovak Republic. The brand name, “Dobro,” comes from a combination of the first few letters of the words “Dopyera Brothers.”

North Carolina Musicians of Note

Ryan Adams (born 1974), singer-songwriter (Jacksonville and Raleigh)
Clay Aiken (born 1978), pop singer (Raleigh)
Doug Aldrich (born 1964), guitarist (Raleigh)
Gerald Alston (born 1951), of R&B group Gerald Alston & The Manhattans (Henderson)
Tori Amos (born 1963), singer (Newton)
Sunshine Anderson (born 1974), R&B and soul singer, songwriter (Winston-Salem and Charlotte)
Seth Avett (born 1980), singer-songwriter, artist (Concord)
Scott Avett (born 1976), singer-songwriter, artist (Concord)
Nicholas William Bailey (born 1980), film and television composer, singer-songwriter (New Bern)
Bessie Banks (born 1938), singer (born Bessie White)
Warren Barfield (born 1979), Christian musician (Goldsboro)
Maria Howell (born 1962), singer (Gastonia)
Fantasia Barrino (born 1984), singer (High Point)
Riley Baugus (born 1965), indigenous Appalachian musician (Walkertown)
Alicia Bridges (born 1953), disco singer (Lawndale)
Chuck Brown (1936–2012), known as "The Godfather of Go-go" (Garysburg)
Shirley Caesar (born 1938), singer (Durham)
Jason Michael Carroll (born 1978), singer (Raleigh)
Spencer Chamberlain (born 1983), singer, songwriter (Chapel Hill)
Eric Church (born 1977), country singer, songwriter (Granite Falls)
George Clinton (born 1941), funk musician (Kannapolis)
John Coltrane (1926–1967), jazz musician (Hamlet)
David L. Cook (born 1968), Christian recording artist and comedian (Charlotte)
J. Cole (born 1985), rapper (Fayetteville)
Elizabeth Cotten (1895–1987), folk and blues singer and songwriter (Carrboro)
Bucky Covington (born 1977), singer (Rockingham)
Charlie Daniels (born 1936), singer, songwriter (Wilmington)
Chris Daughtry (born 1979), singer (Roanoke Rapids & Greensboro)
Tommy DeCarlo (born 1965), singer for Boston (Charlotte)
Patrick Douthit (a.k.a. 9th Wonder) (born 1975), hip-hop producer (Winston-Salem)
Jermaine Dupri (born 1972), rap artist and record producer (Asheville)
Mitch Easter (born 1954), singer, songwriter, music producer (most notably for R.E.M.), frontman for Let's Active (Winston-Salem)
Donna Fargo (born 1945), singer, songwriter (Mt. Airy)
Roberta Flack (born 1937), singer (Asheville)
Ben Folds (born 1966), singer, songwriter (Winston-Salem and Chapel Hill)
Nnenna Freelon (born 1964), six-time Grammy-nominated jazz singer (Durham)
Blind Boy Fuller (1908–1941), blues guitarist and singer Wadesboro
Alfreda Gerald, opera singer and classical soloist (Morganton)
Don Gibson (1928–2003), country music singer, songwriter, Country Music Hall of Fame (Shelby)
Andy Griffith (1926–2012), actor and gospel singer (Mt. Airy)
Anthony Hamilton (born 1985), soul artist (Charlotte)
Wilbert Harrison (1929–1994), singer, pianist (Charlotte)
Warren Haynes (born 1960), Southern rock and blues singer, guitarist for Gov't Mule and The Allman Brothers Band(Asheville)
Jimmy Herring (born 1962), guitarist for Widespread Panic and guitar virtuoso (Fayetteville)
Byron Hill (born 1952), country songwriter (Winston-Salem)
Michael Houser (1962–2002), guitarist, founding member of Widespread Panic (Boone)
Stonewall Jackson (born 1932), country singer and musician (Tabor City)
Randy Jones (born 1953), singer of the Village People (Raleigh)
"K-Ci" and "JoJo" Hailey (born 1969 and 1971 respectively), R&B duo and members of the R&B group, Jodeci (Charlotte)
Hal Kemp (1904), bandleader, composer, and arranger with two number one songs (Chapel Hill)
Cheyenne Kimball (born 1990), singer, songwriter, guitarist, mandolinist (Wilmington)
Ben E. King (born 1938), singer, songwriter (Henderson)
Jim Lauderdale (born 1957), bluegrass, country, and Americana singer, songwriter (Troutman)
Dennis Lee (born 1988), singer, songwriter (Winston-Salem and Raleigh)
Del McCoury (born 1939), bluegrass musician, born in (Bakersville)
Scotty McCreery (born 1993), country singer and American Idol Season 10 winner (Garner)
Ronnie Milsap (born 1946), country singer, songwriter (Robbinsville)
Dave Moody (born 1962), Grammy-nominated, Dove Award–winning artist, producer, songwriter, filmmaker (Fayetteville)
Thelonious Monk (1917–1982), jazz composer, pianist (Rocky Mount)
The-Dream, real name Terius Nash, R&B singer, writer, producer (Rockingham)
Oliver (born William Oliver Swofford) (1945–2000), singer (North Wilkesboro)
Petey Pablo (born 1978), rap artist (Greenville)
Maceo Parker (born 1943), songwriter, musician (Kinston)
Kellie Pickler (born 1986), pop country singer, songwriter, participant in fifth season of American Idol (Albemarle)
Joseph Poole (born 1976), rock musician (Charlotte)
Neil Pope (born 1978), gospel singer (Asheboro)
Calvin Richardson, R&B singer, songwriter (Monroe, Union County)
Max Roach (1924–2007), jazz drummer (Pasquotank County)
Porter Robinson (born 1992), electronic dance musician (Chapel Hill)
Earl Scruggs (1924–2012), bluegrass banjo player (Shelby)
William Self (1906–1998), organist and choirmaster (Lenoir)
Woody Shaw (1944–1989), Grammy-nominated trumpeter, DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame (Laurinburg)
Nina Simone (1933–2003), singer (Tryon)
Arthur Smith (born 1921), music composer, entertainer, television and radio producer (Charlotte)
Tom Smith (born 1957), bandleader, international educator, DownBeat Jazz Education Hall of Fame (Greenville)
Peter Stroud Guitarist and rock musician; Cofounder of 65amps (Greensboro)
Supastition (born 1976), hip-hop artist (Greenville)
James Taylor (born 1948), singer, songwriter (Chapel Hill)
Randy Travis (born 1959), country music singer (Marshville)
Loudon Wainwright III (born 1946), songwriter, folk singer, humorist and actor (Chapel Hill)
Doc Watson (1923–2012), folk guitarist (Deep Gap)
Link Wray (1929–2005), pioneering guitarist, rock musician and songwriter (Dunn)
George Younce (1930–2005), gospel singer (Caldwell County)