CARRBORO, N.C. (January 5, 2023) -- This morning's gathering to celebrate Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten's birthday anniversary featured the reading of a proclamation by Mayor Damon Seils, remarks from NC Representative Allen Buansi, a new poem by Carrboro Poet Laureate Liza Wolff-Francis, and local musician Josh Kimbrough played his version of "I'm Going Away." Also attending the program was Carrboro Mayor Pro Tem Susan Romaine.
“Libba Cotten continues to inspire
musicians around the world and occupies a special place in Carrboro’s history and our vibrant and enduring local music culture,” Mayor Damon Seils said.
About today's featured musician -- Josh Kimbrough is a guitarist and composer who grew up in Carrboro, NC. He's been active in the music scene here for the past 15 years playing the stages of Cat's Cradle, Shakori Hills, Festival for the Eno, Hopscotch Music Festival and the like. He's released music with Carrboro's Sleepy Cat Records. He currently has an LP "Slither, Soar & Disappear" out on Tompkins Square Records - a Grammy nominated label that champions the fingerstyle guitar music that Elizabeth Cotten helped pioneer. Josh discovered Cotten's music in his college days as a DJ at UNCG's radio station WUAG. And she's been a big influence on his music ever since.
It's a great day to ride down the Libba Cotten Bikeway, which is decorated for her birthday! And, go visit the Elizabeth Cotten mural at 111 N. Merritt Mill Road, the gateway to Carrboro between E. Main and Rosemary streets.
For Libba Cotten
Smoke tones down locomotive fog chug.
I press my ear to the freight train, to guitar.
Iron straight stiff unlike melodic
notes easing down the tracks.
Small feet forward in Carrboro,
small hands, Libba would take
her brother’s five string banjo
down from the wall when
he was at work and she’d play.
The number nine in sight, her story
chugs along. She taught herself
her own left-handed picking style
and when a string would break,
she’d leave the banjo on the bed
for brother and run hide,
but he just scolded her
and if he didn’t fix the string,
she’d play with four strings
or three, even two.
Hot metal tracks halted
when Libba stopped playing music.
A vacuum sound by every train,
empty like cold air at night in winter.
Working at a department store,
a chance occurrence, Libba
helped a lost child find
her mother. These are moments
when the Universe rights itself:
that lost child, a Seeger,
lineage of America’s folk roots.
Libba began to work for them,
began to play guitar again,
took it down from the wall,
picked it up like no trains had passed.
The rumble, clack, and whistle
loud when close, and in the distance,
romantic, sound melded into
the American landscape
like Libba Cotten into folk music.
The song of past and present
always in motion, always moving on.
Her lyrics, her voice singing
to bury her deep where she can hear
old Number Nine. She sang about
when she’s gone and here we are
remembering her now. Her voice,
her guitar picking, is the music
we want to lull us, the very music
we want to be inside of
when trains go by.
(Carrboro Poet Laureate)