North Carolina Musicians Influence Music Worldwide

By Alicia Benjamin
These legendary Black men from North Carolina have greatly influenced music worldwide. Over the last 100 years, these musicians have elevated the artform of music, not only during their lifetimes, but for generations in the future

When J. Cole performed his song, “Be
Free,” in 2014 on the Late Show with
David Letterman, it was clear that Cole
was not just singing a song – he was
conveying a serious message. The song
was a response to Michael Brown’s death
in Ferguson, Mo., that year. When he sang:
All we wanna do is take the chains off/
All we wanna do is be free — We knew
he was speaking on our behalf, and we
knew that he cared deeply. Cole was born on a U.S. army base in January of 1985 in Germany, but his mother moved with him and his brother Zach to Fayetteville, N.C. later that year. Living in a home with a mother, stepfather and other adults who were addicted to drugs, Cole used music to escape. He joined a local orchestra as a
violinist and started rapping and producing music. Cole graduated magnacum laude from St. John’s University in
2007 and eventually signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. Since then, he has been nominated for 12 Grammys (he won in the Best Rap Song category in 2019) and has produced music for Kendrick Lamar, Janet Jackson and other artists. Cole started his record label Dreamville Records in 2007.