This is a nice article from the Carolina Alumni Review that was published after I received the John L. Haber '70 award or "Habey" for "outstanding contribution to the arts".
“In the beginning, the music made the friendships, and now the friendships make the music,” Jim Wann ’70 said about his long career.
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 Running, received 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 fromDiamond 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 having him read the weather report from King Mackerel.
“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.
Arts award winner applauds lasting appeal of musical theater
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 ofDiamond 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 Herrick [’70] went on to great musical careers.”
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 Carolina coastal traditions and tall tales.
“When we’re on stage, there’s a wonderful 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 Mackerelconcerts — the children of the people who came to the shows in the 1980s now show up and bring their own children.
“We still sing it and play as if we were 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