Variety show broadcasts school’s past and present

A story I wrote for The News of Orange County.

It was 1964, and the old schoolhouse was called the Castaway Club —the type of place where fights broke out in the park-ing lot and hot-dogs were sold next to the bar.

Clyde Edgerton was playing the piano with seven kids called the “Seven Keys” and a lead singer who wanted to be James Brown.

Now, more than 50 years later, Edgerton—who is now the author of five New York Times notable books—will play on the same stage.

He is a featured artist for The Murphey School Radio Show, an old-fashioned variety show benefiting Chapel Hill’s Empowerment, Inc., and Durham’s Student U.

The “Celebration of Triangle Wit, Lit and Music” will be at 3 and 7 p.m. and will feature Triangle musicians and writers, including famous activist and folk singer Si Kahn and Durham jazz vocalist Lois DeLoatch. WCHL 97.9 FM in Chapel Hill will record the evening performance.

A school, nightclub and a flea market

The Murphey School has a long history as a community center and stage to the greats.

After the school’s auditorium was commissioned in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration, the venue hosted traveling acts and musicians. Rumor had it that Bill Monroe played on the same stage.

The old building took on other roles after it stopped being a public school in 1958: a game room, flea market, the Castaway Club and the Starcastle Disco, publicist Peter Kramer said.

Eventually, it became a deteriorating storage center, with rotting floors and stacks of junk.

That’s when Ebeth Scott-Sinclair and Jay Miller got ahold of the building. They restored it to create an incubator space for nonprofits that couldn’t afford their own space.

The newly named Shared Visions Retreat Foundation would connect and support nonprofits in Orange and Durham counties, with special emphasis on social justice issues, mental health and human services, and the arts, Scott-Sinclair said.

Miller had pledged money to a few organizations, and the two were brainstorming ways to raise funds.

Scott-Sinclair had the idea of an old radio show, getting back to the school’s roots.

She didn’t think they would do another show.

“When it was over, it was so successful and so much fun,” Scott-Sinclair said. “We said, ‘We can’t do just one.’ ”

Seven shows later, the show has become a community gathering for artists in the community, Scott-Sinclair said.

“The beauty of the show is not only is it a way to raise funds and raise awareness for two organizations we pick but showcase the tremendous talent we have in the Triangle,” she said.

That first performance had big names like writer Jill McCorkle. It wasn’t hard to get writers and musicians to sign on for the following shows, Producer Donna Campbell said.

“It became like, ‘When are they going to ask me?’ ” she said.

But Campbell said she’s been trying to get Clyde Edgerton from the very first show, and she said this year has a wealth of talent, even compared to the star-studded past.

“This show is already looking like it’s going to blow the other ones out of the water,” she said.

Coming back home

For Edgerton, the event means a lot of things. He grew up in Durham County and is excited to see some old friends.

But as a musician who has played in bands for more than 50 years—everything from rock to bluegrass—he is excited to hear the other musicians.

“I want to see and hear the whole process,” he said.

And of course, he was drawn to the show for old time’s sake. This was a place he included in his 1988 novel “The Floatplane Notebooks.”

“Over the side entrance to the old brick school building is an unlit, broken neon sign: CLUB OASI,” Edgerton said. “… After the last song, the band members tell me I’ve done a great job. It was wonderful. I want to do it again, anytime.”

And Edgerton will get to do it again, playing—and now reading—to a crowd just like those Saturday nights years ago.

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