News Column

Myers receives prestigious state award

May 21, 2014

By Lisa Boykin Batts, The Wilson Daily Times, N.C.

May 21--Bill Myers, 81, has been making music since he was a little boy growing up in Greenville. But he's also an educator, an arts supporter and a man deeply involved in his church.

He's known in many corners of Wilson County, but this week, it's the entire state that's celebrating Myers.

Tuesday night, Myers received the N.C. Heritage Award through the N.C. Arts Council. In the audience at Fletcher Opera Theater, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts were plenty of supporters from Wilson who traveled to Raleigh to see Myers and to hear him play with his band, The Monitors.

Sally Peterson, folklife director for the N.C. Arts Council, said Myers is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about African-American music in the South, not just Wilson and North Carolina. A jazz and R&B musician, he was instrumental in the formation of the state's African American Music Trail, sharing not only his personal story but those of others as well.

"He has a remarkable fount of knowledge in both his head and his hands," she said, adding he's an incredible educator. Myers honed his education skills in the halls of Wilson County schools where he taught music and served as an administrator for many years.

Every time he is in the public eye, whether it's a newspaper or television story about him or the trail, he spreads the word about the musical history of this region, she said. He does the same thing when he performs on stage.

"He's a remarkable communicator," Peterson said.

She would like to see his influence spread even wider.

"He is such a great one to communicate the meaning and the message of music -- how it bridges races and social issues," she said.

"He has a real talent for bringing people together at every level."

Barry Page, executive director of the Arts Council of Wilson, can always count on Myers and The Monitors to perform on Wilson stages and to bring in audiences.

Page said Myers makes himself available to help out anyway he can because he loves being a Wilsonian."He will work to make sure he is available for those people he considers his family, and Bill Myers considers all of Wilson as his family."

The Monitors, who have been playing since 1957, have already performed at two Arts Council events this year, including last week for Theater of the American South.

For Page, the most amazing thing about Myers is that instead of leaving the area to follow his dream of performing, he chose to stay in Wilson and teach -- making a difference in the lives of young people in the county, particularly Elm City, where he started his teaching career at what was then Frederick Douglass High School.

But Myers was more than a band teacher.

In an interview with the Times a few years ago, Myers said he planned to teach here for one year, but ended up staying 40 years.

"I just got caught up in that thing," he said. "I started teaching, and I saw the kids light up."

Many of his students in Elm City had never been to Raleigh or seen the ocean. "They thought eastern North Carolina was the center of the universe," he said.

So he took it upon himself to teach them. They learned about the blues, the opera and the symphony. He loaded up his car every chance he got and took his students to concerts or the Ice Capades, just as his family had done for him.

"That made their lives better," Page said. "It gave them hope and understanding that they could be successful."

Page said having local people like Myers and the late Vollis Simpson and the late F.C. Barnes win state awards such as this draws attention to the arts in our community and the things we are doing here. It also puts their reputation into greater perspective.

"We know these people as friends," Page said. "Many of us don't realize just how important they are or how popular they are outside of town."

The North Carolina Heritage Award has been given since 1989 to honor folk artists of the state. Others receiving the award Tuesday night were bluegrass fiddler Bobby Hicks of Madison County, Haliwa-Saponi artist and musician Arnold Richardson of Halifax County, weaver Susan Morgan Leveille of Jackson County and potter Sid Luck of Moore County. -- 265-7810


(c)2014 The Wilson Daily Times (Wilson, N.C.)

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Source: Wilson Daily Times (NC)

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