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The Voice of the Black Community

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Exhibit honors Raleigh black promoter
 
Published Tuesday, February 19, 2019
by Maria Magher, Correspondent

RALEIGH – In the early 1940s, Raleigh Memorial Auditorium was one of the biggest concert venues in the area, but it was still segregated – as was the rest of the country. Not only did blacks and whites sit separately during shows, but they often separated in their musical tastes entirely. A lot of performers didn’t cross color lines.

Joe Winters, one of Raleigh’s first African-American cops, was also one of the area’s most influential concert promoters. He helped to bring black performers to the area and brought white and black audiences together under one roof to enjoy acts like Chuck Berry, Parliament Funkadelic and Aretha Franklin.

“Not only were our eyes opened to our neighbors in a way they hadn’t been before, but we’re all in the same place to look at that stage to see this African-American artist of staggering talent. That paved the way to integration and softened people’s views,” said Billy Warden, who owns the marketing company, GBW Strategies, which is now promoting an exhibit of Winters’ life and work at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts.

The Joe Winter exhibit, which will be on display until March 31, includes vintage concert tickets, promotional posters, photos and other memorabilia from Winters’ career. Not only does the exhibit showcase the extraordinary work of one man, but it also provides a glimpse into the musical and social history of the times.

A free reception will be offered to the public in the lobby of Raleigh Memorial Auditorium to celebrate the exhibit and Winters’ work. DJ Chicco Scott will play music from many of the acts Winters promoted. His children, Joe Winters Jr. and Chacona Winters Baugh, will speak, as will others from the community. The reception will take place on Feb. 24 from 2 to 4 p.m.

“From the early ‘40s to the early ‘70s, that’s from Jim Crow to black power, he brought every major black musical artist in the country to Raleigh,” Warden said.

Though Winters had a big impact on local history, his legacy went largely under the radar. The exhibit came together after a chance encounter. Winters Baugh decided to move back into the family home and hired a contractor to make some renovations. The contractor, Greg Paul, discovered much of Winters’ memorabilia in the basement and knew he had found something special.

“I got goosebumps when I first saw the display of autographed photos of all the great entertainers he brought here,” Paul said. “People should know how this great entrepreneur made a difference in people’s lives through the uniting power of music. Even today, our national conversation about racial inequity can be informed by how people of any color can achieve greatness given half a chance.”

Paul worked with Warden and the City of Raleigh Museum to bring the exhibit to life. He is a lead financial sponsor of the exhibit, as well. Warden explained that one thing that made Winters so extraordinary was his ability to work with people of all types.

“He had a winning way with people, not so much that he was a consummate charmer, though from what I understand he could be charming, but he had a real gift for establishing trust,” Warden said. “Not only was he able to build relationships with the talent, but also with city officials, helping him to get more acts to come to the city.

Winters learned to be a concert promoter in college, when he apprenticed with David Weaver, an African-American concert promoter during the Green Book period. Later, he became Raleigh’s second black police officer when city officials tapped him to join the force. They wanted to increase diversity on the force, and they chose Winters for that same winning way with people.

“Joe had this personal style that was so effective, and he was just a sturdy person,” Warden said.

Having a strong work ethic and an entrepreneurial spirit, Winters didn’t stop promoting musical acts after he joined the force. Instead, he would come home after walking the beat and create concert posters in his basement, mail contracts, print out tickets and more.

“He does this for three decades; he hustles like that and works like that,” Warden said.

Winters worked through the early ‘70s, when the concert business became much more commercial, and small promoters couldn’t keep up with the demands of larger acts. He retired from the police force soon after. He died in 2005 at the age of 92.

But, as the organizers of his exhibit point out, his legacy has continued. Warden says that his work helped to bring white and black audiences together and to start changing the way people saw each other.

“It was so eye-opening to go to those shows because we lived in a white city, and from a white kid’s perspective, they didn’t interact much with black people,” he said. “They had a very limited view of what African-American life was like.”

 

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