More than 100 people gathered at CoMMA this past Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, as the City of Morganton unveiled a new exhibit and street-side memorial marker honoring the life and music of Etta Baker.
The exhibit is located in the lobby of CoMMA and contains Etta’s Gibson Les Paul Special guitar, banjo, fiddle, some personal items, awards, and other information about Etta, which is on permanent loan to the City by the Baker family. The City also installed a street side memorial marker on W. McDowell Street at the entrance to the CoMMA parking lot that pays tribute to Etta’s life and accomplishments.
Etta Lucille Baker was born in 1913 and grew up in Morganton. She was raised in a musical family and her daddy, Boone Reid, taught her how to play guitar at age 3. Etta later became known for playing Piedmont Blues and she first recorded “One Dime Blues” in 1956.
Etta and her husband Lee raised nine children. She worked for 26 years at a textile mill in Morganton before quitting the job at 60 years old to pursue her music career. Etta received the Brown-Hudson Folklore Award in 1982, the NC Folk Heritage Award in 1989, the NEA National Heritage Fellowship in 1991, and the North Carolina Award in 2003.
Established by the NC General Assembly in 1961, the North Carolina Award is the highest civilian honor given by the state. The award recognizes significant contributions to the state and nation in the fields of fine art, literature, public service and science.
Etta died in the fall of 2006 in Fairfax, Va., at the age of 93.
Edgar Baker, Etta’s son, spoke on behalf of the family and thanked everyone who helped make the project possible.
“It’s an honor for us, and really for Morganton, because she was Morganton and Burke County’s own,” Edgar Baker said.
CoMMA Director Bill Wilson led the Etta Baker Memorial Committee that includes Edgar Baker, Frank Baker, Larry Cole, Denise Giminez, Deb Jones, Joe & Rick Metcalf, Edward Phifer, Bob Pruett, Don Wright, and Amber Austin.
In addition to the exhibit, the Etta Baker Memorial Committee has plans to commission a larger than life bronze statue of Etta that will be located at CoMMA to help spread the word about Etta Baker, her music, and her musical legacy that continues to this day.
Special thanks to the Baker Family, the City of Morganton, Morganton Savings Bank, the Burke Arts Council, the History Museum of Burke County, Metcalf and Son, and David Holt for making the project possible.
CoMMA is located at 401 S. College Street, Morganton, NC 28655. The gallery is open Monday through Friday during normal business hours. Find out more at www.commaonline.org.
Visitors look over the new archive exhibit honoring the life of Etta Baker at CoMMA.
The street-side marker is located in the CoMMA parking lot off W. McDowell Street.