Center Stage with Winston-Salem’s Music History

Nestled in the center of the Old North State, Winston-Salem’s music scene sings of African-American, Appalachian, and Moravian influences. From the introduction of chamber music to America in the mid-18th Century, to the founding of the country’s first arts council in 1949, Winston-Salem has been known to break musical barriers while preserving our historic roots. Music legends of all genres have called Winston-Salem “home,” including Rock & Roll Hall of Famers, 5 Royales, “Queen of Gospel” Shirley Caesar, and area native and fiddler Tommy Jarrell. Below, learn a bit more of our music heritage and discover where in Winston-Salem you can find live music on any night of the week.

The History

The Moravians who settled the area in 1753 introduced chamber music to America and formed what is today, the country's oldest mixed brass and wind band in the country (Salem Band). A visit to Old Salem Museums & Gardens, a 1766 historic settlement, shares with visitors the music of David Tannenburg, the first organ builder trained in America. Two grand original Tannenburg organs are still located in Old Salem. Though slavery was still implemented throughout the South during the early years of Salem, blacks and whites worshipped alongside each other singing in German until 1823 - when African Americans of Salem constructed the African Log Church, where they're music took on a more methodist approach with joyous singing, clapping and dancing. 

From there, the notable Southern string bands began to form which then soon evolved into a vibrant Blues music scene in the early 1900s. Playing along what was known as the "tobacco circuit," bluesmen from all over the South entertained workers from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and other smaller factories based in Winston-Salem. 

For a complete look at Winston-Salem's music history including the rise of "Big Band" and "Winston Pops," check out Carolina Music Ways online.


Pump Up the Volume

Today our performance venues and entertaining festivals are just as varied as our history is long. At the heart of it all is a vibrant, walkable downtown, home to more than 100 locally-owned restaurants, craft breweries, nightlife options, and performance venues from small and intimate, to grand and rambunctious. So whether you're looking to relax to a jazz quartet on a random weeknight, or swing into the weekend with nationally-acclaimed artists at downtown's RamKat music venue, you're sure to find your perfect tune in Winston-Salem.

Only minutes from Old Salem, music lovers flock to The RamKat, located in the Downtown Arts District inside the former Ziggy's. One of the first major concert venues in the state, Ziggy's helped launch the careers of musical greats including the Dave Matthews Band and Hootie and the Blowfish. Today, RamKat presents a weekly mix of genres from bluegrass and pop, to jazz and hip-hop. Start your night  with craft beer at Wise Man Brewing, located on the very same parking lot as RamKat. Or enjoy a craft cocktail at Gas Hill Drinking Room, which sits atop RamKat. 

For a schedule of upcoming shows featuring legends and legends-in-the-making at RamKat, click here


Maestro, Music Please

From contemporary to classic, the Winston-Salem Symphony, Piedmont Opera, and the Winston-Salem Wind Symphony each pull out all the stops with annual headlining productions performed in some of Winston-Salem’s most historic settings.

Piedmont Opera
Piedmont Opera produces some of the highest quality opera productions possible using international, national, and regional professional singers and technicians. The second largest opera company in North Carolina, Piedmont Opera has performed for more than 150,000 people and produced more than 48 productions. The Opera hosts two regularly scheduled productions each year. For this year's schedule, click here.

University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA)
Presenting more than 200 student concerts, recitals and operas annually is UNCSA, which helps to establish the rhythm for Winston-Salem’s rich music culture and nurtures local talent through their highly-revered music programming at the high school and collegiate level. Each year, audiences are treated to recitals by celebrated guest artists like the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Sphinx Virtuosi, Sir Richard Galway and the Marine Corps Jazz Orchestra. Find an upcoming concert here

Winston-Salem Symphony
Established in 1946 on the campus of Salem College, the Winston-Salem Symphony (WSS) offers a wide range of repertoires including classical orchestral and choral concert music, opera, oratorio, and ballet. Their 2018-19 season promises a bit of thrill and musical excitement as five conductors from around the world vie for the role of Music Director. Audiences play an important role in helping decide who ultimately assumes the baton to lead the Symphony into the future. See them live.

Winston-Salem Wind Symphony
Stepping outside the box of traditional symphony music, Piedmont Wind Symphony performs without a string section and with twice as many woodwind and brass players. On top of that, they add in percussion instruments, resulting in dynamic and crisp sounds. Check out their repertoire ranging from classical, pops, and jazz big band. Dance and Sing Along.


Song Meets Theatre

Entering its 17th biennial festival in 2021 is the National Black Theatre Festival (NBTF). NBTF is a stellar example of what happens when music and drama marry to create critically-acclaimed theatrical performances that draw thousands to Winston-Salem every other summer. Founded with the support of the late Winston-Salem resident Dr. Maya Angelou, NBTF continues to host Broadway veterans and create pathways for up-and-coming talent.

Music is also a recurring theme during Winston-Salem’s annual Academy Award-qualifying RiverRun International Film Festival held each April.  Recent music-themed films have included Score: A Film Music Documentary, Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me, and Itzhak.  


Winston-Salem, North Carolina’s city of arts and innovation, has set a stage filled with an incredible variety of musical talents that will have you coming back for more. Celebrate the sounds of our city on your next journey to Winston-Salem.