“Recognizes significant contributions to the state and nation in the fields of fine art, literature, public service, and science.”
Eric received his award for the Fine Arts category, as he’s a seven-time ACM Award winner, four-time CMA Award winner, 10-time GRAMMY nominee, and most importantly, a very proud North Carolinian.
The North Carolina Award was established by the General Assembly in 1961, and has been given out every year since 1964. Only 250 people have received the honor in total since its inception.
Chief grew up in the small town of Granite Falls, in Caldwell county right on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and later went to college not too far up highway 321 at Appalachian State University in Boone.
He made a deal with his father, Ken, in high school that he would get a degree if his dad paid for his first year of expenses in Nashville, otherwise he’d skip school and head straight to Music City.
Ken, who became a big executive at a local furniture company (which used to be a huge part of that region), agreed, though Eric admits he spent more time running up and down the mountain playing local gigs than being worried about his homework.
He knew it, and his teachers knew it, but he did manage to graduate with that marketing degree and the rest, as they say, is history.
In a video package that played at the ceremony, Eric gave some insight into the big inspirations in his early life, citing another North Carolina legend in Doc Watson as one of his heroes:
“I think a lot of the DNA of who I am comes from playing in North Carolina, being in North Carolina. When I grew up, it was very much Doc Watson, it was bluegrass, it was songwriter driven, it was local artist-driven.
I played many, many years in different parts of North Carolina, little bars, little clubs, with those guys as the inspiration.
And frankly, never thought I’d get out of that… would’ve been fine if I didn’t, but it’s been kind of cool that we did, and those guys and girls are still part of the DNA of how I got to where I’m at.”
He continued, saying his mom was a huge country fan and his dad preferred Motown, so he was exposed to a wide range of musical genres that shaped his own sound:
“My mother was more into country, my dad was into Motown. So I had a pretty big field between the two to play, you know.
We had a really good vibe, we had a lot of great storytelling, we had an interesting time as a child growing up. Then as I got into my formative college years, and into my college years, I started to dive pretty hard into the songwriters which is really what I am.
That’s how I got here, so I think the songwriter element of who I am also adds into the house that I grew up in…”
He also got very personal about how much his home state means to him, saying that everything about it made him who he is, and is the reason he’s had such an incredibly successful career:
“I think North Carolina has been a creative compass for me. First of all, it was where I started. It’s also where I made the ‘Chief’ album, which changed my career.
It was the most successful album we’ve made, and it’s where we just went back to for the ‘Heart & Soul’ album, we went back to Banner Elk. It’s always been kind of a vortex, a place I can always count on finding creativity.
That’s my home, that’s where I’m from, that’s where I feel comfortable. And it’s where I cut my teeth, it’s where I became me. And I think that going back to that familiarity has led itself to the creativity has allowed for some pretty cool projects.”
During his acceptance speech at the show, where he was dressed to the nines, looking mighty sharp in a full tuxedo, he noted that receiving this very special award “hits differently.”
He also told the audience that he’d promised his mom many years ago that he’d never forget where he came from or who he belonged to, poignantly adding that “I belong to my God, my family and North Carolina.”
Amen to that one, Chief:
“Well, I didn’t think music was going to lead me here. I’ve had the good fortune to win some awards and have some accolades, but this one hits different for me.
North Carolina is where I became me. I became a songwriter. I became an artist. I became a man. I can remember being 22, heading to Nashville, Tennessee with a dream and a guitar.
And my mother and close friends, who are here tonight said to me, ‘Don’t forget who you are and whose you are.’… So you guys know, I’m Eric Church, I belong to my God, my family, and North Carolina.”
As a native North Carolinian myself (and a massive Eric Church fan, in case you haven’t noticed), who went to Appalachian State as well and grew up not too far from where he did, I couldn’t be any prouder of him for representing our state so well.
I absolutely agree with and would echo everything he said in his speech, and I’d venture to guess a lot of my fellow North Carolinians feel the exact same way.
Eric absolutely nailed it with everything he said at the ceremony, except for the very last two words of the speech where ended it with a rousing “Go Heels!”
That I simply cannot support in good faith…
Seriously, though, I’m damn proud of Eric and look forward to many more years of incredible albums inspired by God’s country and the greatest place on earth:
Gonna go turn this one up and have a good, happy cry now…