At one time, Charlotte was an even bigger country music hub than Nashville. Charlotte-area historian, Dr. Tom Hanchett, will look back at Homer “Pappy” Sherrill, who was born in Sherrill’s Ford in 1915, and other performers in the early history of country music for the Eastern Lincoln Historical Society. Sherrill was an old-time bluegrass fiddler who played on WBT radio back in the 1930s and 1940s.
The program, “The Mills and the Music” will be on Monday, Jan. 13. It covers the period from the 1930s through the 1940s.
“The impetus for that was, in part, from people moving from the country to the textile mill communities, which were in their heyday at that point, and bringing their music along with them.” Hanchett said. “Charlotte was the center for that because there were so many mill villages close by and it had one of the very first radio stations ever to sign on the air, WBT.”
During these times, musicians were able to play live on the air during the morning or noontime and then go out and play at a farm or mill community and make a decent living as a musician, Hanchett added. Most important musicians of country music history played and recorded in Charlotte. Some came straight out of local farms or mill villages and some travelled from afar.
“The prominent group was a family group,” he said. “People used to get together and play after the work was done and the notion of a professional band was a rarity.”
A fiddle player himself, Hanchett moved to Charlotte in 1981 from Cornell University, where country music was studied and honored.
“I came to Charlotte and it was almost a year before someone said to me, ‘oh did you know Bill Monroe made his first records here,’” he said. “I said, ‘say what!’ It wasn’t written down anywhere. So, I began gathering little bits of information and putting them into a story.”
A community historian living in Charlotte, Hanchett consults with community groups and with Levine Museum of the New South. For 16 years, he served as staff historian at Levine Museum where he curated the permanent exhibition “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers,” which was named Best in the Southeast by the South East Museums Conference. He also curated a string of national-award-winning temporary exhibitions including “COURAGE” about the Carolina roots of the Brown v Board of Education Civil Rights case.
Hanchett’s writings range widely on urban history and Southern culture including a book about Charlotte’s neighborhoods, “Sorting Out the New South City: Race, Class & Urban Development in Charlotte,” an essay exploring the history of United States shopping malls and a monthly newspaper column “Food from Home.” Hanchett was educated at Cornell University, University of Chicago and UNC Chapel Hill. Currently he is the historian in residence with the Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library where they maintain an extensive music archive.
The Eastern Lincoln Historical Society meets at 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 13 at Mundy House Annex which is located at 5363 Business Highway 16 North. It is open to the public and free to attend.