The Spartanburg Music Trail now has a class of 20 inductees.
The new double-sided sign, honoring internationally acclaimed opera soprano Gianna Rolandi and the late gospel singer Rev. Julius “June” Cheeks, was unveiled Wednesday morning at a ceremony on the corner of West Saint John and Magnolia streets.
The music trail “bolsters the popularity of Spartanburg and puts us on the map,” said Mayor Junie White, after pulling the ribbon that revealed the new sign. “It’s a good thing that we recognize the people who spent time in Spartanburg and played music that made such a big impact. … It is a great tradition that we must continue.
The Spartanburg Music Trail opened in 2011 under the direction of the Hub City Writers Project, which has since handed over the reins to the Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra.
“I love that Spartanburg is now recognizing people who have kind of been forgotten in history,” said Betsy Teter, writer and director of development for the Hub City Writers Project. She made a few remarks at the ceremony on Wednesday. “It’s a legacy I’m very proud of and I think the whole community should be proud. “
Rolandi, who was born in New York but raised in Spartanburg, has enjoyed considerable success on opera, concert and recital stages around the world.
Now 66, she performed at Converse College’s Twichell Auditorium in 1982, 1985 and 1995. She graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1975 and made her opera debut that year- there with the New York City Opera, where she went on to sing over 30 roles.
Cheeks, a native of Spartanburg who died in 1981 at the age of 51, was famous for a powerful and gritty baritone who influenced the next generation of gospel singers and secular stars, including James Brown and Wilson Pickett.
As a child, Cheeks was in love with the recordings of Dixie Hummingbirds, Soul Stirrers and others. He started singing in his sophomore, joined a local gospel group dubbed the Baronets, and in 1946 was spotted by Rev. BL Parks, a former Dixie Hummingbird and called to join a group called the Nightingales.
Other speakers at Wednesday’s ceremony included new musical director and conductor of the Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra Stefan Sanders, originally from Austin, Texas, who recently moved to Spartanburg from Buffalo, NY.
“Not all cities have a musical journey that celebrates its musical luminaries,” Sanders said. “It is a testament to the importance people place on art and culture in this community. “
The Spartanburg Music Trail honored 12 inaugural inductees in 2011, expanded in 2013 to include four more, and added two more inductees in 2015.
It will eventually loop around downtown Spartanburg which includes Main Street, Liberty Street, St. John Street, and Daniel Morgan Avenue.
“For a city that has been committed to a Philharmonic for 90 years, that tells you how much music is appreciated here,” said Kathryn Boucher, Managing Director of the Spartanburg Philharmonic. “And then you look at the breadth of musical heritage throughout the community, and it covers a lot of other genres and is rich in history. It’s just exciting to see two other people being recognized and introduced to the community of a so wonderful way.