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How many of these 40 things have you done?

Sure, everyone gets their summer reading assignment at the end of the school year. And sure, they’re usually “important.”

But they’re also just a snippet.

What if Charlotte teens could broaden their horizons and orient themselves to this place and time, gaining a little historical context and having a little fun at the same time?

We’ve asked some experts to offer a total of 40 suggestions for what a local high school student can see, read, hear and do this summer to better understand Charlotte in 2013. NOTE: These suggestions are aimed at high schoolers but aren’t scrubbed clean of any controversy. So parents, be aware.

See how many you’ve already done – and let us know what you think we’ve missed.


From Tommy Tomlinson, former Observer local columnist, now at

The worst thing about this list of 10 is that it should be a list of 100. There was just no room for the great ’80s band Fetchin’ Bones, or Sammy Johns’ one-hit wonder “Chevy Van,” or Don Dixon’s MTV hit “Praying Mantis,” or Clay Aiken, or Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City,” or even the immortal Doc Watson – I decided at the last minute that he lived a little too far away to qualify for “the Charlotte area.” I apologize for any and all omissions. And I hope you see that the greatness of what was left out says something about what stayed in.

“Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” James Brown – Recorded in 1965 at Arthur Smith Studios on Monroe Road (now StudioEast). This groundbreaking record took soul music and stripped it of everything but the rhythm – every instrument beats like a drum. If you listen close enough, you can hear hip-hop being born.

“Dueling Banjos,” Arthur Smith – Smith, mentioned above, had a longtime TV show along with his Charlotte studio, but was best known for this instrumental, which he recorded in 1955 as “Feudin’ Banjos” ( and which became a hit in 1973 in a banjo/guitar version from the movie “Deliverance” (

“My Favorite Things,” John Coltrane – Coltrane, born in Hamlet (75 miles east of Charlotte), helped open jazz to a new, freer style. “My Favorite Things” (from “The Sound of Music”) becomes a sacred thing in Coltrane’s hands.

“Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” Flatt & Scruggs – Shelby’s Earl Scruggs revolutionized banjo playing with his three-fingered picking style, and placed this instrumental on the Mount Rushmore of bluegrass tunes. (While we’re here, a shout-out to another Shelby boy: Don Gibson, who wrote the country classics “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and “Oh Lonesome Me.”)

“Stay,” Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs – It’s got a Caribbean beat, a doo-wop falsetto, and the whole thing is over in 1:38, making it the shortest No. 1 hit ever. You can still hear Maurice Williams (from Lancaster, S.C.) singing this on any oldies station, beach-music club, or the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack.

“Forever and Ever, Amen,” Randy Travis – The boy from Marshville who once sang at the old Country City USA club in Charlotte made country cool again in the 1980s.

“Lately,” Jodeci – Charlotte brothers Donald and Dalvin DeGrate were half of one of the most successful R&B groups of the ‘90s. They had a string of hit records, but this cover of a Stevie Wonder tune is my favorite.

“Summertime,” Fantasia Barrino – Her quirky, jazzy voice made her the antidote to the usual “American Idol” sheen, which made it strange and wonderful when she won “Idol” in 2004. She has a home in Charlotte now and is headed out on tour with Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. No, seriously.

“Laundry Room,” the Avett Brothers – Scott and Seth, who grew up in Concord, have worked their way from gigs at the Wine Vault in University City to selling out theaters around the country. Their melodic acoustic stomp is hard to capture in words, and they keep making it harder as they experiment with new sounds and styles. “Laundry Room” comes off the great album “I and Love and You.”

“Expo 83,” Backyard Heavies – And here, the past and present connect. This obscure cut by a Charlotte band sat dormant for more than 40 years until Kanye West sampled the drum lick for his hit “Runaway.” (Parental warning: Lots of bad language in “Runaway.”) Paul Walker, the drummer in the Backyard Heavies, still lives in Charlotte. His drum lick has now been in Super Bowl ads and a commercial for the new “Hangover” movie. Music lives on.


From Lawrence Toppman, Observer arts writer

It’s possible to get an understanding of American history from Hollywood, as long as you don’t care much about facts. The furor over the Oscar-nominated “Lincoln” proved again that even great moviemakers bend the truth to hold our attention. So the cinematic South isn’t the real South. But if you watch the following 10 movies, all of them critical or box-office successes over the last 100 years, you’ll know how Americans formed their opinions about the region in which we live.

“The Birth of a Nation” (1915) – The first epic masterpiece of U.S. cinema is brilliantly directed, tearjerkingly acted and jaw-droppingly racist. (It comes from two books by Shelby author Thomas W. Dixon, “The Clansman” and “The Leopard’s Spots.”) Kentucky-born director D.W. Griffith depicts the real horrors of the Civil War, the imagined horrors of Reconstruction and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.

“The General” (1926) – It was possible by then to make a great comedy about the Civil War, especially if you didn’t come from the South. Buster Keaton, the funniest deadpan actor of all time, plays a Southern railroad engineer whose locomotive is stolen by Union spies; he loves it so much that he charges through enemy lines to get it back. For the first time, the divisive war of 1861-65 began to feel a bit absurd in retrospect.

“Gone With the Wind” (1939) or “Jezebel” (1938) – With World War II looming in Europe, Americans were psychologically ready to embrace a simpler, happier time, and these two myth-making movies satisfied their fantasies. Dashing Southern men, ready to defend the rights of their homeland, engage with strong-willed women who represent the fiery spirits of their home states: Georgia in “Gone With the Wind,” Louisiana in “Jezebel.”

“All the King’s Men” (1949) – Most Americans thought of Southerners as naive and ignorant, partly because the agrarian and manufacturing cultures here neither required nor rewarded book learning. This film, adapted from the Pulitzer-winning novel by Kentucky’s Robert Penn Warren, shows the rise and fall of a corrupt politician who exploits the emotions of the mob. It’s based loosely on Louisiana governor Huey Long.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951) – Mississippi-born author Tennessee Williams spent most of his career exploding (or exploiting) Southern stereotypes. (See also “The Glass Menagerie,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” etc.) In “Streetcar,” the mind of faded belle Blanche DuBois begins to give way when she encounters animalistic Stanley Kowalski, who shatters her delusions about the past – hers, her family’s, and the South’s in general.

“In the Heat of the Night” (1967) – Even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights act, it was a shock to see black detective Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) slap a white man in Mississippi who had slapped him first without provocation. A murder mystery becomes secondary to the unlikely, halting friendship between Tibbs and a white police chief (Rod Steiger), who gradually lets respect for this able policeman overcome his racist tendencies.

“Smokey and the Bandit” (1977) – The character of the easygoing, good ol’ boy who flouts the law and runs an illegal liquor business remains uniquely Southern, and Burt Reynolds’ embodiment of this good-humored redneck made him the top box-office star in America. The Georgia-born, Florida-raised Reynolds played variations on this guy about a dozen times, further engraving the cliche on the American consciousness.

“Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1980) – The phrase “poor but proud” is usually used as a compliment, never more so than in the saga of Loretta Lynn. Texas-born Sissy Spacek justly won an Oscar for playing the Kentucky girl who left her large, impoverished family to become a first-tier country singer. The hard-drinking characters (including her husband) reinforced America’s attitudes toward blue-collar Southerners, but the film generally respects the region.

“The Apostle” (1997) – Few movies take a thoughtful look at religion, a subject crucial to any understanding of the Southern psyche, but this one does. Robert Duvall won an Oscar as a successful Texas preacher who commits a terrible act, then tries to redeem himself by moving to Louisiana, preaching on the radio and rebuilding a church. The story, written by Duvall, seriously examines questions of forgiveness and redemption.

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012) – Americans don’t like to think about desperately poor people in our supposed land of prosperity; our culture marginalizes them to the point of near-invisibility. So this tale of families living in “The Bathtub,” islands off the Louisiana coast in danger of being swamped by bad weather, would be nearly unique for tackling that subject alone. It’s both compassionate and dispassionate in its look at their struggle to survive.

City Places

From Tom Hanchett, staff historian at Levine Museum of the New South

Hanchett recommends these places for teens to explore to get a better sense of Charlotte’s history, and the unique (and cheap and easy!) experiences uptown has to offer. “The cool thing about downtown is that there are all these cool nooks and crannies,” he said.

1. Ride the light rail. “If you come uptown on the light rail, you can get off and, in very few minutes, start discovering stuff.”

2. Once uptown, eat lunch and support local vendors and farmers by hitting the 7th Street Public Market, right off the stop on East Seventh Street between North College and Brevard streets. Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays, 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturdays, closed Sundays. Info:

3. Take a free walking tour and learn a thing or two about history. There are a bunch, and here are two that Hanchett recommends:

Liberty Walk: The 15-site tour highlights landmarks that used to stand in uptown Charlotte during Revolutionary times (1771-1781). Follow the tour using your smartphone at, or print the map. Follow the horse medallions on the sidewalk for guidance, Hanchett said.

Fourth Ward tour: Learn about Charlotte’s past in the historic Fourth Ward district of uptown. Pick up a tour map at INFO!Charlotte at 330 S. Tryon St. or call 704-331-2700 for more information.

4. And speaking of history, go to the center of uptown at Trade and Tryon streets, called The Square. You’ll probably see street performers and vendors, and of course those famous four statues. Find out what they symbolize by looking at the plaques behind them. You’ll also find stories in stone at Thomas Polk Place, also situated at The Square.

Hanchett said he has two favorite plaques about a block south of The Square (near Dean & DeLuca): One marks where Jefferson Davis stood when he found out Abraham Lincoln was assassinated (this one’s for you, Civil War buffs); the second marks one place where bluegrass music began.

5. If it’s hot outside, try what Hanchett calls the “Gerbil Trail.” Other folks call it the Overstreet Mall. It’s an indoor walkway system that connects buildings for at least five city blocks without ever making you go outside. Walkers will find restaurants, shops, gifts and even, in the Wells Fargo Atrium, an exhibit called “ Purses, Platforms and Power.” The permanent exhibit, in the back of the Atrium, is about influential Charlotte women during the 1970s. “It’s fun just to check out what people were wearing back then.”

6. If exhibits float your boat, continue into the cool airs of uptown’s air-conditioned museums. Hanchett recommends the Levine Museum of the New South (“It’s way more fun than the standard kind of history museum”), the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Mint Museum Uptown and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. (The last three listed are all in the same vicinity.)

7. One of Hanchett’s favorite uptown spots is Latta Arcade/Brevard Court, which faces Tryon and Church streets and is between Martin Luther King Boulevard and Third Street. Latta Arcade is what Hanchett calls “an antique mall,” meaning the building itself is old (developed in 1910) and features stained glass and skylights. Brevard Court is behind it (and roofless), and also features shops and restaurants. Hanchett’s favorite hangout there is Poor Richard’s Book Shoppe, which is upstairs. He also recommended checking out the Kugler photo gallery upstairs, which has photos “going back to the era of ‘Mad Men’ in Charlotte.”

8. To appreciate the Queen City’s public art, download the Arts & Science Council’s Public Art Walking Tour podcast and map. Info:

9. Next to Rock Bottom restaurant on North Tryon is a hidden gem, Hanchett said. There’s an archway to the right of the restaurant through the TransAmerica building that opens up to the TransAmerica Square courtyard. “As you go through the archway, look up and you will see a fresco by Ben Long,” he said. The fresco features symbols and people of Charlotte, including a lot of musicians who still play at Charlotte venues like RiRa Irish Pub, Hanchett said. “Even if you’re too young to go to the bar, you can at least see the musicians here.”

10. Finally, Hanchett said colleague Janeen Bryant, the Levine museum’s vice president of education, recommends the Landmarks Commission driving tours, particularly the African-American history tour that ends at Latta Plantation. Info:


From Lawrence Toppman, Observer arts writer

No region of the United States chews over its past the way the South does: sometimes with pride, sometimes with shame, often with regret for a past (real or imagined) that seems more alluring than the troubled present. The best of these books are frank and confessional and sometimes tough to read. But authors often tell us more about ourselves through fiction than historians do. This list is aimed at different levels of reading comprehension; adult themes and materials abound, and there’s nary a beach read in the group. But if you’re going to understand the way good writers have seen the South – and helped people around the country and the world to see it – you may want to start here. The list is chronological.

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1885) – Mark Twain delivered the first great novel about race relations in the guise of an action comedy, about a paternalistic white runaway fleeing an abusive dad and the savvy black slave who joins him on the Mississippi River. The book cleverly and humorously analyzes behavior of all sorts in the pre-Civil War South, but it deepens as Huck fully awakens to the humanity of his companion.

“Their Eyes Were Watching God” (1937) – Zora Neale Hurston’s masterwork qualifies as both classic African-American fiction and a landmark in women’s literature. It charts the journey of Janie Crawford from a submissive, clueless Florida teenager to an independent, assertive woman.

“Native Son” (1940) – The novel takes place in Chicago, where chauffeur Bigger Thomas sees his life spin out of control while working for a white family. But author Richard Wright grew up in Mississippi before moving to Chicago at 18 as part of the Great Migration; he was writing about that shift, which took rural Southern blacks to Northern cities after Reconstruction and often dropped them into dead-end jobs or purposeless lives.

“The Member of the Wedding” (1946) – “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” Carson McCullers’s 1940 debut novel (written partly in Charlotte), may be her greatest book, but “Wedding” is an easier introduction to her style. The title character, a 12-year-old tomboy who calls herself “an unjoined person,” is losing her beloved brother to marriage; her closest companions are her 6-year-old cousin and a black maid who takes the place of her dead mother.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” (1960) – Harper Lee’s Pulitzer-winning (and so far only) novel does deal with race, as attorney Atticus Finch tries to get a fair trial for a black man unjustly accused of rape in an Alabama town. But it’s also about compassion, especially toward people we don’t understand, and it’s a coming-of-age story about a tomboy who learns to grow up a bit over one long, troubling summer.

“The Reivers” (1962) – A Southern fiction list without Nobel-winner William Faulkner would be a joke, but his bizarrely constructed novels are tough for newcomers. (“The Sound and the Fury” may be the best of those.) Try “The Reivers,” his Pulitzer-winning final novel and only out-and-out comedy. The title (a folksy word for “thieves”) refers to a young boy and two older acquaintances, a boisterous white man and a shrewd black one, who swipe a car and set off for Memphis.

“A Long and Happy Life” (1962) – Reynolds Price, perhaps the best and most versatile writer to come out of North Carolina, made a splashy debut with this profile of Rosacoke Mustian, who’s swept away by love in a South hovering between the conventions of the 1950s and the new freedoms coming in the 1960s.

“The Color Purple” (1983) or “Beloved” (1987) – Both of these Pulitzer-winning novels, by Alice Walker and Toni Morrison respectively, follow the rough lives of Southern black women whose choices imperil themselves and their loved ones. “Purple” takes place in the 1930s, “Beloved” during the Civil War; one ends more positively than the other, but both will tear your heart. And both were made into movies that didn’t do them full justice.

“A Lesson Before Dying” (1993) – Ernest Gaines’ novel, later made into a play by N.C.-born Romulus Linney, tells the story of a black man unjustly convicted of murder in the Jim Crow South, between World War II and the Civil Rights Act. As he faces an almost-certain execution, his sense of self changes; a local schoolteacher begins to educate him about the world outside his town, and a minister attempts to bring the imprisoned man to God.

“The Secret Life of Bees” (2002) – We round the list off with another story about a white teen fleeing a mean father and taking an older black friend on the run, but this time they’re female: Lily and Rosaleen, the maid who serves as a surrogate mom. They end up in South Carolina, staying with three black sisters who keep bees. The target audience for Sue Monk Kidd’s novel may be girls and women, but guys will be moved, too.

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