Winston-Salem is one of the greatest small cities in the world. Famous Winston-Salemites will feature some accomplished people that lived in Winston-Salem and now have moved on to do great things. All of the questions will be about their time in the Twin City.
Becca Stevens, a resident of Winston-Salem for seventeen years, sings a fusion of folk, jazz, and pop and she has been compared to such musical geniuses as Joni Mitchell. She was born and raised in Winston-Salem and her musical family traveled the region in the band, The Tune Mammals. Becca started her musical journey before some kids can talk and was on the stage by the age of two. To this day Becca says, “Winston-Salem is where my heart is.”
Becca’s music has received a lot of praise, including a New York Times feature in 2008 that quoted her as New York’s “best kept secret.” She just released a song, “I Asked,” with Snarky Puppy, a two-time Grammy winning band (“I Asked” Video). Last year the Becca Stevens Band released their record Perfect Animal, which The Daily Beast named as one of its 20 Amazing Under-the Radar Albums of 2015 (Article). Becca will be traveling to Japan, Estonia, Poland, and the United Kingdom this spring to perform with various artists.
In 2002, Becca lived in Winston and sang and played guitar in the band Gomachi. I saw her play at Ziggy’s , which led us to go on one date (we were confused during the interview if it was to a Chinese or Sushi place and if it was on Peters Creek or Stratford Road). I thought Becca would have this grand memory of our date and that she would go on and on about what a great time we had, but she had to look up my picture to put everything together! As my wife can tell anyone, I am about as picky of an eater as possible, and there is no way I would ever eat sushi, so Becca and I joked about how I could have never hung with her in the food category. To give myself a little credit, Becca was moving to New York to become a star in a month or two when we went to dinner, and things turned out great on my end as well.
How long did you live in Winston-Salem?
I was born in Winston and stayed there until I went to boarding school for ninth and tenth grade. I moved back for the next three years. I have been in New York since 2002.
Which Winston-Salem streets have you lived on?
I lived on Club Park Road during my childhood. After I went to the North Carolina School of the Arts (NCSA), I lived on Sunset Drive in the West End for a year.
What different Winston-Salem schools did you attend?
I went to the Creative Learning Center for daycare. I then went to Summit for junior kindergarten through eighth grade. I studied at the Peddie School in New Jersey for ninth and tenth grade, before I came back to NCSA to finish high school and focused on classical guitar. When I moved to New York in 2002, I attended The New School for jazz and contemporary music.
Who all in your family are musicians?
Everyone! My dad plays multiple instruments like the guitar, various folk instruments, and keyboards. He is also a serious classical composer and has written every type of music from musicals, to symphonies and string writing, to choral music for Augsburg Lutheran Church, where I sang in the choir during my teens. My mom went to NCSA for her masters in opera and now teaches and performs in the Atlanta area. My sister also went to NCSA for ballet. My brother is a brilliant classical composer and co-owner of Ovation Sound, an awesome recording studio in Winston. He also performs in tons of bands in the area like Big Daddy Love, Yarn, Camel City Collective, and The Lee Boys.
Who were your favorite teachers in Winston?
I loved Mr. Turner (elementary education), Mrs. Kerr (drama), Mrs. Hopkins (music), and Mrs. Hamilton (English) at Summit. At NCSA, I loved my English writing teacher, Becky Brown, and my guitar teachers, Joe Pecoraro and Gerald Klickstein.
Are there other musicians in Winston-Salem that helped inspire you to become a musician?
Besides my family, I started to get into jazz in Winston by going to listen to jazz bands at Leon’s on Marshall Street when I was at NCSA. My friend Paul Defiglia (currently in the Avett Brothers), and my brother and his friends introduced me to a lot of jazz, funk, and hip hop. After I graduated, I performed with Gomachi, which was a fusion of all of those types of music, until I left for New York.
Where all did you have jobs in Winston-Salem?
I was a teacher at the Creative Learning Center, where I also attended daycare when I was a child. It was right next to NCSA. I also did a lot of performing in the area as a kid in theater productions and touring local festivals and schools with The Tune Mammals. I performed a lot at The Little Theater, The Christmas Carol, and I played the kid parts at various theater productions at NCSA. When I was ten, I played the lead role in a year long national tour of The Secret Garden with my mom.
What were your top three local Winston-Salem restaurants?
Nawab’s Buffet is great, and I used to love Mary’s of Course. My uncle, Joe Hsu, doesn’t have a restaurant, but I would say his kitchen is another one of my favorites. When I come back to town, I like to go with my cousins (the Hsu brothers) to Foothills and Finnegan’s.
If you were to move back to the area, where do you think you would want to live?
I loved living in the West End. I also love the Asheville area. I grew up going to Eagle’s Nest Camp, and it was a favorite part of my childhood.
Were you more of a Hanes Mall or Thruway fan?
Thruway! Hanes Mall gives me panic attacks. Even when I was of driving age, I would lose my car in their huge, circular parking lot. I did go to Hanes Mall some in my early teens, but I definitely enjoy Thruway more.
We had to briefly pause the interview at this point because this wreck happened outside of Becca’s New York residence:
If you were on a stranded island and could just have one Winston-Salem food for the rest of your life, which would you choose: Moravian sugar cookies, Bojangles biscuit, or a Krispy Kreme doughnut?
Oh my god! I used to eat Bo-Berry biscuits all the time and those things are heaven in the mouth. At NCSA, we would go dumpster diving at Krispy Kreme for the warm, deformed doughnuts that they threw out each night. I feel I would live longer on a stranded island eating Moravian cookies, since they are probably the healthiest of the three. I do like a good biscuit though. I know I am not really answering your question.
What was your favorite Carolina Beach?
In the seventies or eighties, my grandmother bought a house in Hilton Head, and I loved to go there. It’s sad because it isn’t there anymore. Growing up, I used to go with my childhood best friend, Maria Guidetti Olson, to Sunset Beach. I also more recently went to the Outer Banks and love it there too.
Where is your favorite place in the mountains in North Carolina?
I love Boone and Lenoir, where my dad grew up.