Morgan Canty, Age 21, College Student/Server at his family’s restaurant; Bristol, Tennessee:
“I’ve lived here all my life. I lived in the Virginia side for part of my life, and the over on the Tennessee side.
It was a good place to live, calm, not too much going on. Peaceful. As a child, we went to the YMCA a whole lot. Played in the parks [and] played at the fountain down the street at the Memorial Park. We did a lot of singing.
(His singing) It started as me listening to some old jazz singers when I was a kid, and I used to do impressions of it; Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, stuff like that. Eventually, I was like, ‘oh, well, I can sing and I like singing so I’m gonna do that.’
[Liked jazz as a kid] mostly ‘cause I liked the way they ‘scatted.’ My mom and dad [are into] music. My mom sings, too. I’ve got four brothers. No sisters. Me and my brother are the only ones into music. My mom is the musical parent. She sings a lot of gospel at home [and] sometimes at churches when we visit.
I’d like to be a recording artist. The music makes me feel good. I can express myself through it. And also, it’s another way to tell a story. One of my friends, he’s an actor, and that’s probably the best way to describe music and acting, is storytelling. I mean it’s a great way to get [something] across, and you can do it in as many words as you want, or even in a few words. Basically, you get the emotion of a song by how someone’s singing it, so that’s why songs are usually a chorus and a repeat.
I did a show over at the Paramount (Bristol) for the Tenors at Noon Series, which is a showcase of local talent and artists that they do during the summer. It’s every other Friday. I did mostly songs with the piano. I had my brother play the piano [and] I sang a little bit of everything. Little bit of Otis Redding, TLC, some Macy Gray, some Michael Jackson, a lot of different stuff.
I would have to say [Appalachia] has it’s own culture going on. It’s like all the different kinds of music are branched out from this region. You’ve got bluegrass and you’ve also got this mountain music sound.
I hear it from a lot of people that visit here, they ask why people are so nice here, and I’m like ‘I don’t know, that’s the way people act.’ That’s how people are.
Growing up here, I’ve learned a lot [about] how to treat other people. I’ve met so many different people from going to school in this area and working down here at the restaurant. You meet every type of person imaginable. I’ve learned about working. Almost everybody here is a working person.
I’d definitely say [one lesson learned is] that hard work pays off. Having faith in what you’re doing. That’s another important thing. Believing it.
Cooking’s been a big deal in my family. We cook every day. Holidays are big in our family. Sunday dinner is big in our family. They cook everything. Have lobster for certain holidays, switch it over and have fried chicken, turkey and dressing.
On Christmas Eve, we usually have a beef brisket or something like that. We’ll have lobster with that, and some roasted potatoes with garlic, vegetables and some type of punch. Then the next day, on Christmas, we’ll have turkey and dressing, sweet potatoes, and baked mac and cheese. That’s something the whole family cooks, not just my mom. Everybody will meet down here at the restaurant, or we’ll meet up at my grandfather’s house up in Glade [Glade Springs, Virginia].
My father’s parents, I never actually got to meet his father. He passed away before I was born. His mother, she lived here in the area for a long time. Now she resides in Atlanta. My mom’s parents, my grandmother passed away a couple of years ago, and my grandfather is still alive.
We spend a lot of time at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother, she loved to cook. Both of my grandmothers loved to cook. My grandmother, Marge Coleman, she cooked everything. And that was something she learned from her mom, ‘cause I believe it was her mom that used to be a cook in people’s houses.
My grandfather, he likes to cook. He likes to do a whole lot of gardening, and he’s always been a worker. He served in the Army, I believe it was the Korean War, and then after that, they came back and he lived up in Glade Springs and it was hard for them to get a job, I remember being told. They worked at a couple of different jobs and then finally he was able to land a job at the Appalachian Power. He worked there for a long time and retired. My grandmother, she was a nurse up in, I believe, it was Abingdon [Virginia] Hospital.
What is life? Life. Life’s a journey. That’s my best explanation. [My journey] is going good. I’ve hit some road bumps along the way but I feel like in the end, it’s not about exactly being perfect, but it’s how far you’ve come.
One [bump in the road] is about being frustrated about singing. Trying to figure out where do you go from here. Do you move to the big city or do you stay here? ‘Cause big city’s [are] completely different. And acting. That’s one of my bumps. School, going to college. Trying to figure out what to major in, ‘cause I’ve switched so many times.
I want to move to Los Angeles. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be like. I want to go out there and visit. I’d tried to go out there this summer, but it didn’t work out for me to go out this summer which means it’ll probably work out better for me to go in the fall.
I expect it to be completely different. What I’ve heard about the city is crime and not knowing anybody, which is different than being at home. There’s not that person you can just reach out and lean on, especially when you don’t know anybody.
I feel like one thing [that’s different about Appalachia is] most police officers in the area know me, my family, which is a good thing. I know people. You can walk around on the streets of Bristol, and not really worry about somebody attacking you, stealing your money, that stuff. There’s a low crime rate in the area.
There’s a unity that’s in these communities and part of being in the South, or I guess in the Eastern Tennessee or Southwest Virginia area, there’s a sense of community. You talk to your neighbors. You wave at people on the street. You say hi to people you don’t even know. Ask how they’re doing.
[Racial profiling] does happen here. It’s happened to me and my family multiple times. At times, it can be humiliating, especially when you know you’re not doing anything wrong.
One time in particular, me and my mom were followed to our house. We pulled into the driveway, and they [police] flashed their lights and stuff. Made us show ID to basically prove that we lived in the neighborhood. We live in an all white neighborhood, but it’s nothing fancy or upscale or anything. They told us the reason was they were making sure we lived in that house.
Sometimes, you get pulled over for something and they’re looking for something and they assume you have something, but there’s nothing wrong. Eventually, after they start talking to you, they’re like, ‘well, this is a good kid.’ That’s what it ends up turning out to be.
I think at times we avoid the talk about race. I feel like we need to talk about it. If you ask any of my friends, I will talk about race at any point, anywhere. And for people, if you haven’t talked about it, it gets uncomfortable. I think that’s where you break down those walls of fear, and you take away those prejudices when you get to know people: when you’ve been over there, and you’ve talked to those people, black and white, or any other race; when you start talking to each other and you start learning about [them].
Me and my best friend, we’re complete opposites on [the] political spectrum, completely different backgrounds, different news channels, everything, but we’re tight. We can talk about the President, we can talk about anything without getting into a fist fight. We agree on a lot of stuff, which we never thought we’d agree on.
You talk to somebody, you find out exactly who they are.
To people that are not from the area, sometimes they’ll sense a little bit of this Appalachian accent, but I wouldn’t self describe myself as a hillbilly. It’s funny, ‘cause I’m taking a History of Tennessee class, and we had to do a whole chapter about that. I don’t know if I have a regional label. I’d say [I’m] an Appalachian.
We’re [Appalachians] usually viewed as either being less clean or not as smart. I don’t even know where the stereotypes come from exactly, but sometimes we can be viewed like when we’re talking about negative stereotypes, as under the level of everyone else on certain stuff. But the view is how people in Appalachia act. It’s usually kind, unless you run into some rednecks who just don’t like anybody that’s an outsider!
[On how to change outsider’s perspectives of Appalachia] Well one thing that can be alarming [is] where some people in Appalachia haven’t been outside of Appalachia, or haven’t really had that encounter, like a lot of the old people here.
Meet people. Meet different people. Different backgrounds, races, religions. Different things, cause there’s a saying here, ‘tell your kids not to talk to outsiders’ even though the person right next door could be getting ready to do something to you.
Greatest triumph? I want to say keeping it together. I’d say staying ‘me’ through the years, which is kind of hard to do, especially when you’re younger. And, still keeping my eye on goals.
My mom and dad started out regular. You gotta start somewhere, and they worked their way up, and told me that in life you’re not going to be handed stuff.
And even when you’re given stuff, you’ve gotta keep working to keep it.”