When the New York Carolina Club invited Jim Wann ’ 70 to come to
a special gathering in Manhattan in May,
you can bet its members hoped he would
bring his guitar and a few musical friends.
They were not disappointed.
Wann, a pioneer in putting Southern
roots music and original music on stage,
with writing and performing credits that
include Diamond Studs, Pump Boys and
Dinettes and King Mackerel & the Blues Are
the John L. Haber
’ 70 Award, also
known as the
“Habey,” for outstanding contribution
to the arts.
After he received
the award, Wann
and one of his frequent partners in song, UNC creative writing professor Bland Simpson ’ 70, put on a
show. They performed Jesse James Robbed
This Train from Diamond Studs and the title
song from King Mackerel. They even got
Haber, the award namesake with his own
career in theater production, into the act by
“That was fun,” Wann said later, admitting to a bit of preshow jitters. “I saw a lot
of friendly faces. There were a lot of Tar
Heels in the room, and we were able to all
celebrate this music together.” The annual
award is given by the club, the UNC
department of dramatic art, Carolina Performing Arts and the GAA.
The audience included plenty of folks
with Tar Heel roots, including Michael
Wilson ’ 87, the 2010 Habey recipient who
recently directed The Trip to Bountiful on
Broadway, and opera singer Nova Thomas
’ 77, who received the Habey in 2011.
“That really resonated with me, to see
Chapel Hill friends and New York friends in
the room celebrating together,” Wann said.
The most satisfying aspect of the award
ceremony for Wann was that it got him
thinking about how many careers have
been launched over the years by Diamond
Studs and the musical group that originally
performed it, the Red Clay Ramblers.
“The Ramblers all had day jobs — they
were academics for the most part,” he said.
“They could have continued in that vein
and been very successful. But as a result of
Diamond Studs, they decided to be a full-time band and earn their living that way.
Tommy Thompson [’ 63] and Bland wrote a
musical based on Mark Twain, Life on the
Mississippi. Mike Craver [’66] and Jack Her-Wann said the stories and music were
very much inspired by UNC of the ’60s and
’70s, when people began picking up guitars
and mandolins. Musical theater was a way to
get his interest in traditional North Carolina
songs and the original songs that he and
Simpson were writing onto the stage.
Wann, Simpson and Don Dixon ’ 73
are about to mark the 30th anniversary of
their collaboration as the Coastal Cohorts
on King Mackerel, which celebrates Car-
olina coastal traditions and tall tales.
“When we’re on stage, there’s a won-
“We still sing it and play as if we were
derful feeling that has something to do
with the longevity,” he said. “The time is
important, and we relish performing
together. Enjoying each other’s work is
part of the friendship. In the beginning,
the music made the friendships, and now
the friendships make the music.”
Wann has noted a social aspect of the
King Mackerel concerts — the children of the
people who came to the shows in the 1980s
now show up and bring their own children.
still young,” Wann said. “That’s fun
because we would never have anticipated
that we would have gone this far singing
those same songs.”
— Don Evans ’ 80
“In the beginning, the music made the friendships, and now the friendships make the music,”
Jim Wann ’ 70 said about his long career.