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Famous North Carolina People

Writers
  • Maya Angelou: Born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis and raised in rural Arkansas, Angelou has lived in North Carolina since the early 1980s, when she accepted a position as a professor at Wake Forest University. She has had a distinguished career as a novelist and poet. Among her most famous works is  "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."
  • Clyde Edgerton: Edgerton, a native of Bethesda, North Carolina, has achieved national recognition for his novels, among them his first work, "Raney."
  • Kaye Gibbons: A native of North Carolina's Nash County, Gibbons has won critical acclaim for novels such as "Ellen Foster" and "A Cure for Dreams."
  • William Sydney Porter: This famed short story writer is better known by his pen name, O. Henry. Born in Polecat Creek in 1862 and raised in Greensboro, Porter was known for his surprise endings, such as that in the story "Gift of the Magi."
  • Thomas Wolfe: Born in Asheville, Wolfe was a noted novelist and author of books such as "Look Homeward, Angel" and "You Can't Go Home Again."
Journalists
  • David Brinkley: A TV news reporter and commentator from Wilmington, Brinkley was best known for co-hosting the "Huntley-Brinkley Report" from 1956 to 1970 and later hosting "This Week with David Brinkley."
  • Howard Cosell: Cosell was a famous sports commentator from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was known for freely expressing his opinions on nearly every topic in sports, and for serving as one of the original hosts of the television program "Monday Night Football." 
  • Charles Kuralt: An Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist from Wilmington, Kuralt spent nearly all of his career with CBS news, most notably as the host of "On The Road" and "Sunday Morning."
  • Edward R. Murrow: A five-time Emmy winning journalist from Polecat Creek, North Carolina, Murrow is a member of the Television Hall of Fame. He earned distinction at CBS news for his TV and radio reporting.
  • Sam Ragan: Born in Granville County, Ragan has been called North Carolina's "literary godfather." He is also the man who gave newsman David Brinkley his start, hiring him as a cub reporter for the Wilmington Star. He was honored as North Carolina's Poet Laureate in 1982.
  • Charlie Rose: An Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist and interviewer, Rose was born in Henderson, North Carolina. His interview show, "Charlie Rose," has become a staple of PBS programming.
Entertainers/Artists
  • Clay Aiken: This Raleigh native became a national singing sensation as he competed for top honors in the television show "American Idol" in 2003. Aiken came in runner up in the competition, but he did win a recording contract and his single "This is the Night" went platinum.
  • Fantasia Barrino: This High Point native came to fame when she won top honors on the television show “American Idol” in 2004. After being crowned the American Idol, Fantasia’s single “I Believe” won two Billboard Awards and her album “Free Yourself” went platinum in 2005.
  • John Coltrane: Born in Hamlet, North Carolina, Coltrane is considered to be one of the greatest and most innovative jazz musicians of all time.
  • Cecil B. DeMille: DeMille, from Washington, North Carolina, was a famous actor and director of early films. He is best known for his work on movies such as "The Ten Commandments" and "The Greatest Show on Earth."
  • Roberta Flack: This Grammy-winning singer from Black Mountain, North Carolina, is best known for titles such as "Killing Me Softly with His Song" and "Set the Night to Music."
  • Ava Gardner: This famous actress from Smithfield, North Carolina, received both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for her many film roles. Some of her more noted films include "Show Boat," "On the Beach," and "The Sun Also Rises."
  • Andy Griffith: The actor from Mount Airy, North Carolina is famous for his work on the long running television programs "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Matlock."
  • Thelonious Monk: Born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Monk was a legendary jazz pianist known for his innovative techniques. He was among a select group of musicians responsible for the birth of a new form of jazz known as "bebop."
  • Earl Scruggs: Born and raised in North Carolina's Cleveland County, Earl Scruggs was just  four years old when he picked up his first banjo. Together with guitarist Lester Flatt and the "Foggy Mountain Boys," he helped introduce bluegrass music to popular culture in the 1960s through the theme music to the television show "The Beverly Hillbillies" and the film "Bonnie and Clyde." 
  • Arthur Smith: Known to country music fans for many years, Smith created and produced "The Arthur Smith Show." The show ran for 32 years, giving many up and coming musicians their first exposure to a national audience. A musician in his own right, Smith composed and recorded "Guitar Boogie," the all time best selling country music instrumental song.
  • James Taylor: Born in Boston and raised in Chapel Hill, Taylor was arguably the most famous singer/songwriter of the 1970s. Known for the introspective lyrics of songs like "Carolina in My Mind," "Fire and Rain" and "Sweet Baby James," Taylor is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
  • Bob Timberlake: Timberlake is a Lexington, North Carolina artist who is renowned for his intricate paintings and attention to detail.
  • Doc Watson: Born in Deep Gap, North Carolina, this musician gained prominence during the folk music revival of the 1960s. Blind since infancy, Watson's unique blend of  traditional Appalachian, country, blues, gospel and bluegrass music has earned him five Grammy Awards.
Athletes
  • Dale Earnhardt, Sr.: A native of Kannapolis, North Carolina, Earnhardt became one of the most popular race car drivers in NASCAR history. Known to fans as "The Intimidator" for his aggressive style, Earnhardt won seven Winston Cup Championships. He was killed in a crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500 race on February 18, 2001.
  • Jim "Catfish" Hunter: This Perquimans County native gained national fame as a pitcher for the Kansas City Athletics and the New York Yankees. His impressive list of wins earned him a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
  • Marion Jones: Known to many as "the world's fastest woman," Jones won 3 gold medals and 2 bronze medals at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, taking home more track and field medals in a single Olympics than any other female athlete in history. Jones lives and trains in Wake County.
  • Michael Jordan: Although he was born in Brooklyn, the man regarded by many as the greatest basketball player of all time moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, at a very early age, and spent his childhood there. He attended UNC-Chapel Hill, where his team won an NCAA tournament, and then was a part of two Olympic gold medal teams and 6 NBA championship teams with the Chicago Bulls.
  • Charlie "Choo-Choo" Justice: An Asheville native who became a star football player for the UNC Tar Heels in the late 1940s and then the Washington Redskins in the 1950s.
  • Meadowlark Lemon: A native of Wilmington, North Carolina, Lemon played with the Harlem Globetrotters for 24 years. Affectionately known to many as the "Clown Prince of Basketball," Lemon was as famous for his comedic skill on the basketball court as he was for his athletic talent. He later became an ordained minister and now serves as a preacher in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he divides his time between his work with youth and with his own basketball team, the Harlem All-Stars.
  • Sugar Ray Leonard: This world famous boxer, born in Wilmington, won an Olympic gold medal and 5 world titles.
  • Gaylord Perry: This Williamston native and Baseball Hall of Famer pitched 3,534 strikeouts during his career, playing for teams like the San Francisco Giants, the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves. Perry won the prestigious Cy Young Award in 1972 and 1978. 
  • Richard Petty: This Randleman, North Carolina native gained fame as a NASCAR racing driver. Petty won 7 championships and holds the record for most consecutive race wins: 10.