Bill Myers was honored this week with a North Carolina Heritage Award. Myers is a saxophone player, and he's led the jazz band The Monitors for close to 60 years.
Bill's earliest introduction to music was when the minstrel shows came through Eastern North Carolina in the 1940s.
The black performers sometimes donned black face, and the musicians dressed in rags, clowning for the audience. Both black and white audiences went to the shows. The acts hired local musicians, and Bill was often hired to play saxophone.
Bill Myers left for college, and then he became a teacher and administrator. He regularly performed music on the weekends.
Myers wrote song after song in a succession of notebooks, but for some reason he never played or recorded his own original music. A near-death experience a few years ago changed that. Bill was at the gym one day, riding a stationary bike.
"All of a sudden I went into a cold sweat. I got dizzy, I got disoriented," he says. He wet to get a drink of water, and collapsed.
"So I'm laying there in the hospital, and I remember saying 'Man, whatever you do, don't go to the light! Don't go to the light!'" Myers heard the doctors say that he had a massive blood clot. They wondered aloud how he was still alive. Myers could hear the doctors, but he couldn't respond.
"And I'm laying there and I said 'I guess this is it.' All those things I wanted to do, and now it's too late, I'm gone."
When he left the hospital a week later, Bill Myers got busy. He took his wife on a cruise to Hawaii. And he turned his attention to that bunch of notebooks filled with music. Music he'd written, but never recorded.
"I said I have to get some of my music recorded, I just have to do this. Good or bad, I need someone to know that I wrote these songs and they've just been sitting on a shelf, in a book, at home."
Soon he invited a friend and neighbor over to sing the lyrics. They rolled tape on the sessions. Myers says his goal was simple.
"I want my kids to know I wrote this." "I just want a record of what we done."
In his younger years, Bill Myers says that he spent a lot of time chasing a hit song. But after his time in the hospital, things changed.
"I don't care if anybody likes them or not. It's something I did, I was sincere about it when I did it. And when I sit down sometimes at the piano and my heart just pours out with something, I have to put it down, I have to write it." The songs, he says, are his legacy.
"It means that my kids, my family have something to remember me by. I poured a lot of myself into those songs. It doesn't mean you have to like them. It just means that I wrote them and I wanted someone to know that I wrote them, that's all. It's almost like my will. Your dad's been here and gone but this is who he was."