This week’s Mountain Xpress has a piece I wrote about musician Randy Weston. I’ve known Randy for over a decade, and it was a treat to learn more about him. He’s a true local, born and raised in Weaverville in a musical family with deep roots in this area. Here’s the story:
Musical Odyssey: Local roots and varied influences built one artist’s career
“Everybody in my family played music,” says multifaceted musician Randy Weston. Growing up in Weaverville, music permeated his childhood. “My dad was a professional gospel singer, my mom and sister play the piano, my brother Oscar plays piano and guitar. … Really, there are too many to list.” Weston’s extensive list of musical relatives includes his cousin, Grammy-winning singer Roberta Flack. Weston will perform a free show with his band Westsound at The Social on Friday, Feb. 3.
As a boy, surrounded by this inspiration, Weston was motivated to pursue music himself.
“We had a church up the street from our house called Little Mount Zion,” he says. “After I got out of school, I would go down to the church and play on the piano. I taught myself how to play. The other kids would be down the street playing basketball. We had to be at home by dark — I was at the church every day until then, playing the piano.” He later learned how to read music, playing clarinet in the school band.
The Westons are true locals, with Roland and Baird being other family names. “We’ve always been here. We have roots in Mars Hill and in Higgins, out in Yancey County,” Weston says. “We recently had our 115th consecutive family reunion.”
Living where he did, gospel was not the only genre he was immersed in. “We were around country music, bluegrass, all that,” Weston explains. “That’s what we grew up around. When we were kids, riding to school with my mom, we would listen to [radio station] WWNC. My brother Oscar played in country bands.
“When I left home and went into the Army, around 1981, was when I officially started playing in a church,” says Weston. He has played in houses of worship ever since.
After a three-year stint at Fort Knox, Ky., Weston moved to Indiana for about 15 years. During his time away from Western North Carolina, he honed his musical chops. “One of the churches I worked for in Indianapolis, the pastor’s wife was a music professor who coached me,” he says. “I’ve been through a lot of major musical training, taken a lot of workshops.”
There were a few years when Weston tried being a touring musician. “One band I played with was called C.H.A.N.C.E., and we did the hotel circuit,” he says. “We traveled all over the Midwest [and] I lived in hotels. In 1995, I hooked up with a band out of Miramar, Fla., called The Factor, and we played on a cruise ship for three months. That’s when I gave up the road.”
Returning to this area in ’98, Weston began establishing the full musical career he enjoys today. “When I first came back, my brother Oscar wanted us to start a band,” Weston recalls. “Me and my brothers, Oscar and Cecil, started United Souls with our cousin Maurice Hawthorne on bass.”
At the same time, Weston started playing for Hill Street Baptist Church under the late Rev. Nilous Avery, the father of Weston’s wife, CiCi. Weston later moved to New Vision Baptist Church, and a house of worship in Tryon, until four years ago when he came to his current position as music director at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
Ultimately, United Souls didn’t work out, so in 2000, Weston started Westsound, an R&B/funk/Motown act that includes singer Regina Duke. “When we first started, we only had two weeks to prepare for a gig on Bele Chere weekend,” Weston remembers, shaking his head. Prepare they did, and the band was off and running.
During its early years, Westsound played a lot at the now-defunct venue New York, New York and at Tressa’s Downtown Jazz and Blues, establishing itself as a versatile band guaranteed to fill the dance floor. Today, the group stays busy with gigs ranging from weddings and private parties to fundraisers and festivals. Westsound is a favorite at the Montford Music & Arts Festival and has been a hit on LaZoom Tours Band & Beer on the Bus. “We try to reach everybody,” Weston says. “I don’t care if it’s ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, today’s [or] country, and believe it or not, we can do some bluegrass, too. I like to make sure we can do everything for everybody.”
Having sung together all of their lives, Weston’s family gospel act, The Weston Brothers, also continues to perform. The group has released two recordings that feature Randy Weston’s original songs.
As it has been from the beginning of his musical journey, playing music in church is a central part of Weston’s musical life. For his current position with Mount Zion, he has a range of responsibilities in addition to playing the Hammond organ during services. “We have five choirs — I do all of the planning for all of the choirs, manage the rehearsal schedules, prepare the musicians and teach the songs,” he explains. “In addition to the music, I am over the media ministry, which is the sound and the video and audio recording.” People are able to buy recordings of Mount Zion’s Sunday morning services, and sections are broadcast on WRES-FM 100.7 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, at noon, and Sundays, at 8 am.
When he’s not booking and performing with Westsound or working at Mount Zion, Weston runs his own recording studio where he records everything from gospel to rap. “I’ve even recorded an audiobook,” he adds.
Weston’s children and grandchildren are involved in music as well. His son, also named Randy, “is involved in gospel on a major level. His band, Juda Band, has a single out now on Malaco Records.”
When asked how he manages his overflowing schedule, Weston says that balancing all of his varied projects comes easily to him because he’s done it for so long. Not to mention, the rewards are profound. “When you are playing, and look out, and you see people, and they’re feeling good, that’s what it’s about,” he says.
Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, 47 Eagle St., holds services on Sundays, at 10:30 am. Info at mtzionasheville.org.
WHO: Westsound, westsoundproductions.net
WHERE: The Social, 1078 Tunnel Road, thesocialasheville.com
WHEN: Friday, Feb. 3, 9 p.m. Free
Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church was established in 1880 by a group of African Americans led by Reverend Robert Parker Rumley. After 17 years of service, Reverend Rumley turned the church over to Reverend Jacob Robert Nelson. Under Nelson’s leadership, in 1919, Miller and Sons Construction Company built the church’s impressive building at 47 Eagle Street on The Block, Asheville’s historically African American business district. Born into slavery, Miller and Sons founder James Vester Miller went on to become a master mason who built many of Asheville’s iconic downtown buildings. Miller’s granddaughter, photographer Andrea Clarke, still lives in Asheville.