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NC's Singing Senator

North Carolina's Singing Senator

Charlie Albertson


Sen. Albertson, thank you for granting us this interview.  You have long been known as not only an influential political figure in North Carolina but also as a talented musician.  In recent years, you have been called “The Singing Senator.”  This multi-faceted career gives you a unique outlook on North Carolina.

 

Tell us about growing up in rural, eastern NC.  What was the community like?


Most families were poor and large as was the family I grew up in.  I had 5 brothers and 3 sisters which made a total of 11 in all in my family.  What I remember fondly is how families worked together to help one another when it came to harvesting crops such as tobacco, etc.  There was a closeness that existed among us because we knew everyone in our community. 

 

What were your early musical influences?


My father played banjo and one brother played guitar and a sister who played the piano so I heard a lot of music growing up as a youngster.  I also remember a blind couple who went to different churches singing duets and I thought they were so good that it made a good impression on me, not only for their singing but the message they brought to the congregation.  From this I became a member of the church choir and I have continued to be a member for all these years.  Christian music has had a big influence on my writing and hopefully there has been a good message in many of the songs I’ve recorded.  Of course we had a radio which was our connection to the outside world.  We looked forward to listening to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night and on week nights we would listen to WJJD in Chicago and also there was a station in Cincinnati, Ohio.  We could always tune in to WPTF around noon-time and pick up some live music. 

 

It seems that most NC country musicians are strongly influenced by either of two distinct styles of country music – in the western part of the state that tends to be the bluegrass of Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs, while eastern NC produces more devotees of Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell.  Which of these two sub-genres of country music (if either) were more of an influence on your music?


The latter two, Lefty and Hank.  Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff, Kitty Wells, Hank Thompson and all of those I think of as great legends. 

 

You have appeared several times on, NC music legend, Arthur Smith’s television show.  Was Arthur Smith an influence on your music? 


Yes. When I was a youngster Arthur and  his brother Ralph would come through the community and I would always make an effort to try to see them.  They were great musicians and put on a great show.

How did you meet? 

Actually I didn’t meet him until he was in Raleigh some years back and he came by the building and that was before I did any of his shows. 

What do you believe his legacy will be in both NC and American music? 

He will leave a great legacy not only through his great songs, but I will always remember Arthur as being a wonderful human-being that has a great love for people.  He’s written some really great music, Dueling Banjo’s and Guitar Boogie come to mind.

 

Another NC music legend, guitarist Jimmy Capps, has played on your records.  During the Hunt administration, you sponsored legislation recognizing Mr. Capps’ contributions to country music.  Why did you feel that it was important to recognize him in such a way?  


First of all, Jimmy Capps is one of my very best friends.  Our acquaintance goes back even before he went to Nashville, TN.  He is a renowned guitar player, if not the best in Nashville he’s certainly one of the very best.  He has produced and played on just about all the music I have recorded in Nashville.  He has performed and recorded at one time or another with just about everybody in the business and for that I thought, along with Governor Hunt, that he was worthy of the highest honor that is bestowed upon someone by our Governor, and that is the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award.

 

During your music career, you played with many legends both from NC and beyond – who stands out in your mind?


Yes, I’ve have performed with Loretta Lynn, Roy Acuff, Charlie Pride, Bill Monroe, Bill Anderson, Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton and many others.  Each one of these artist have their own style so it’s difficult to pick out any particular one. 

 

You are known as quite a songwriter.  Recently you have gained national attention for a song about Willie Nelson.  Who were the songwriters who most influenced you? 


I think about Don Gibson, Willie Nelson, Jerry Chestnut, Hank Williams, Bill Anderson, & Don  Schultz are some that come to mind.  John Newton who wrote Amazing Grace is also someone I consider a great writer.

           

What led you to write “Leave the Man Alone”?


It was comments from other individuals who were very frustrated to have this once in a life-time to see Willie Nelson perform in Duplin County and then to see it all disappear so suddenly, and my own perceptions as one looking at the whole situation from the outside and putting that together from what people told me; some said it was a shame, some said it was unfortunate and should have never happened.  I think one of the things that frustrated me was when I learned that the law enforcement code name was “on the road again”,  and the fact that there was a total of 13 ALE agents on hand seemed much more than enough. We all know Willie has a history of  marijuana use  in the past and we knew that when he was invited to our county, but he has never known to harm anyone, in fact he is known for doing a lot of good things such as aid for the farmers, plus it looked like selective prosecution was made in going to search the bus.  I have wondered even before this incident knowing of his great music and thinking in the past, “why don’t they just leave this man alone and let him write and sing his songs?”   When this happened in my county the song just came together.    

Listen to:



Another of your songs gaining renewed attention in our current economic climate is “Inflation Blues”.  Has there been much overlap between your political career and your music?  


Yes, I actually wrote this song the first in 1979, the latest version I made a few changes but it is basically the same as the original.   In the family I grew up in we usually talked about three things; music, politics and the church and I think these things have been woven into my music.

See the video of:

Inflation Blues

Although we are focusing on your music, you have been a long-serving and very influential member of the NC House and Senate.  How do you see your political legacy – of what legislation are you most proud? 


I hope people can say of me that I have been fair and reasonable about bringing a balance to issues that have been contentious.   We have been fortunate with the help of my colleagues to help pass some important legislation; Fisheries Reform Act; Senate Bill 3 – Promote Renewable Energy; Amending our State Constitution so that restitution could be administered in North Carolina; Beach Access; Saltwater Fishing License Bill; and  many pieces of legislation for the swine industry that benefits the swine industry and environment, these are just a few. 

 

Lulu Belle Wiseman, a famous country musician of previous generations, also served in the NC State House.  How, in your opinion, should she be remembered by future North Carolinians


I’ve heard some of my colleagues who were here at the time speak so fondly of her and her husband Scotty, and of course they remember that great song “Have I told you Lately that I Love you”, so I think she is primarily remembered for her song that will be here forever.

 

North Carolina is a state very much in transition from agriculture and southern traditions to tourism, real estate and immigration from northern and western states.  At the NC Visitor Center we believe that the music of North Carolina, especially the country and blues music that has been so much a part of our culture since our founding, is an essential part of our culture.  What would you like to tell our new residents about this music and culture, and what should children learn in our schools about NC music? 


I think our music tells us much about our past, our dreams and inspiration for the future.  I have learned that music is probably more important in our lives than we are able to realize at times.  For me it would be hard to imagine life without music.  As for me when I get a little down I turn on a little music and it always makes me feel better. 

 

 

Sen. Albertson, thank you for your time in granting this interview and your contributions to our state.

-NC Visitor Center