Depending on how you reckon it, I either spent three or 28 years writing “Step It Up And Go.” Yes, there were the last few years at the end, when I was directly working on the book. But that was preceded by a quarter-century were I was kind of writing “the first draft of history” of it all in the News & Observer, with features about the “5” Royales, Doc Watson, Nina Simone and more. That produced a body of work I could use as a roadmap in various chapters.
There were a few chapters, however, where I had to basically start from scratch and build them from the ground up — most notably Chapter 7, “Breaking Color Lines at the Beach: The Embers and Beach Music.” Being a snob (and also not too bright), I didn’t take beach music all that seriously for a lot of years. Nevertheless, when it came to the book, beach was just too important a subject to pass over.
The beach chapter actually turned out to be one of my favorites in the entire book, tracing the style’s origins as a product of its era of Jim Crow segregation in the years after World War II. And it fit very neatly alongside Chapter 5 about North Carolina’s most important 1950s-vintage r&b group, Winston-Salem’s “5” Royales, who have a few songs in the beach-music/shag-dancing canon.
If you’re interested in a demonstration showing more about what beach music is and where it came from, the North Carolina Museum of History just opened an exhibit about it that’s well worth checking out. “Beach Music: Making Waves in the Carolinas” will be on display through next September, with an impressive array of artifacts. Here’s a piece I did about the show for the city of Raleigh.
I’ll be doing an online talk about the museum’s beach-music exhibit and my book’s beach chapter at noon on Wednesday, Oct. 14 — “History @ High Noon: Breaking Color Lines at the Beach.” The event is free (as is the exhibit to attend), but it does require advance registration to get the Zoom link.
Drop on by (virtually) and ask some questions.