Billy Kaye comes home.

In 2018, North Carolina welcomed home a native son, renowned jazz drummer Billy Kaye. Born Willie King Seaberry in Wilson in 1932, Kaye performed with Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk and other luminaries, but had never played in Wilson. Not long after his June performance at Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, Sandra Davidson interviewed Kaye for North Carolina Arts Council’s “50 for 50: Artists Celebrate North Carolina.”

Below, an excerpt from the interview.


S.D.: Tell me what you remember about growing up in Wilson.

Kaye: I was born in ‘32 a couple blocks from the train station near the Cherry Hotel, one of the top hotels in Wilson. My grandparents’ home was 517 Church Street which was something like a two-block walk to the train station. It was a block off Nash Street. Most of the employment was done there. Nash Street had [a] drug store, dentist, doctor. There was a Ritz Theater on Nash Street. There were three churches in that area. That was basically it. I grew up running around the yard playing the Lone Ranger with a broomstick between my legs. I used to enjoy coming home in the summers when I was a youngster to play in the dirt, climb the trees, play under the house. That kind of stuff.

S.D.: … What is it like to for you to play your first hometown show?

Kaye: It’s hard to explain. It’s the biggest thing that ever happened. Playing at home was something I wasn’t even about when I left here. I had no history. I was just a guy that moved up [North]. I played in Greensboro some years back. It was okay. It was North Carolina, but it wasn’t Wilson. Goldsboro—that was great, but it still wasn’t Wilson. Home is where I was born. So, this thing here, it’s hard to explain. I’m playing at home. I’m seeing things that I didn’t see and appreciating things. I see these trees, the most magnificent things. There’s nothing there but trees. Man, they are the greatest trees I’ve ever seen. It’s like home.

Billy Kaye performs at Whirligig Park. (Photo: Astrid Rieckien for the Washington Post.) 

For the full transcript of Kaye’s interview and to watch videos of his performance in Wilson’s Whirligig Park, see here.


The blind Williamson singers.


Wilson N.C.  May 6. 1887

H.D. Norton/  Capt. &c

D Sir

Enclosed herewith you have a partial report of the condition of the unfortunates among the coloured population of the County, owing to the pressures of other duties. I have not been able to give the matter that attention necessary to give a full & correct report. If a longer time can be given I will give it further attention & report again — I would say that the case of the blind chidlren herein reported is one that calls loudly for sympathy & assistance, five in one family from their birth.

Yours Very Respy &c, J.W. Davis Shff Wilson Co


Table Showing the Number, Sex & Age of the class of ‘Unfortunates’ among the colored people of Wilson County, State of North Carolina

  • Sarah Selby, age 54
  • Wm. Williamson, age 8
  • Edward Williamson, age 12
  • Allice Williamson, age 4
  • Pauline Williamson, age 5
  • Aquilla Williamson, age 7
  • Jno. Bailey
  • Robt. Hinnant

In the 1880 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Edmund Williamson, 50; wife Thany, 44; and children William, 25, Nicie, 23, Eliza, 22, Eddie, 21, Ally, 19, Pollina, 17, Dolly Ann, 15, Isaac, 12, and Raiford, 7. The six hashmarks at right are in the column marked “Blind,” and the occupation of William, Eddie, Alice and Pauline was listed as “gives concerts.”

As described here, the Williamson siblings were educated at the state’s School for the Blind and earned a good living touring to showcase their remarkable voices.

On 12 October 1903, Edmund Williamson drafted his last will and testament. Per his wishes, his “two blind sons William Williamson and Edmund Williamson” and his “blind daughter Leany Williamson” were to equally divide a life estate in all his real estate and then to successive heirs “to remain in the Williamson family forever.” Daughter Dollie Ann Brownricks was to receive a life estate in all Williamson’s personal property, money, stock and crops, with her children Timothy, Bethania and Lizzie Seabury to receive the remainder.

North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1863-1872, Goldsboro (subassistant commissioner), Roll 16, Unregistered Letters Received Aug 1865-Feb 1868, 

Obituaries of Nettie Seaberry and Katie Barnes.

Seabury Barnes 12 6 49

Wilson Daily Times, 6 December 1949.


In the 1900 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Mark Forsyth, 48; wife Mary, 28; children Gilford, 14, Nettie, 9, Ottis, 6, and Floster, 2; nieces Rebecca, 5, and Louettie, 30; and nephew Willie Forsyth, 22.

On 29 December 1908, Timothy Ceberry, 21, of Cross Roads township, son of Jesse Ceberry and Dollie Barnes, married Nettie Forsythe, 20, of Cross Roads, daughter of Mark and Mary Forsythe. Free Will Baptist minister James(?) Richardson performed the ceremony at the bride’s home in the presence of William Forsythe, James Daniel and Frank Barnes.

In the 1910 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Timothy Sebury, 20, and wife Nettie, 19.

On 5 June 1917, Timothy Seaberry registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 26 October 1889; resided in Lucama; worked as a tenant farmer for J.H. Lamm; had a dependant wife and children and a “short leg from having been broken.”  He was literate and signed his name in clear cursive.

In the 1920 census of Cross Roads township, Wilson County: farmer Timothy Seabury, 30; wife Nettie F., 29; and children Joseph, 10, and Tramilla, 9.

In the 1930 census of Black Creek township, Wilson County: farmer Timothy Seaberry, 42; wife Nettie, 42; children Joseph, 17, and Trumiller, 15; and boarder Benjamin Kirby, 19.

In the 1940 census of Springhill township, Wilson County: farmer Temathy Seabbry, 51; wife Nettie, 51; Cora M., 8; and farmhand George Hinnant, 18.

Nettie Seabury died 2 December 1949 in Lucama, Cross Roads township. Per her death certificate, she was born 9 October 1888 in Durham County to Mark Tate and Mary Morgan. She was buried in Williamson cemetery.


On 23 March 1916, Katie Bynum, 20, and Robert Barnes, 21, of Stantonsburg, were married by Missionary Baptist minister S.H. Jones in the presence of Jas. Walter Newsom, General Ellis, and Bennie Barnes.

In 1918, Robert Lee Barnes registered for the World War I draft in Wilson County. Per his registration card, he was born 20 September 1898; resided on R. 2, Stantonsburg; farmed for Fred Washington; and his nearest relative was Katie Barnes. He signed his card with a firm hand.

In the 1920 census of Stantonsburg township, Wilson County: farmer Robert Barnes, 22; wife Katy, 22; son [sic] William, 12, and daughter Alice, 7; nephew Augustus Speight, 15; and lodger Sarah Hagan, 17.

In the 1930 census of Gardners township, Wilson County: farmer Robert Barnes, 32; wife Kallie, 32; and children Alice, 12, John L., 12, Bessie M., 8, Robert L., 7, Mitchell, 5, and Fred A., 9 months.

In the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 616 Suggs Street, tobacco factory laborer Hattie Barnes, 46, and children Robert, 18, James, 14, and Fred A., 10; also lumber Fred Barnes, 40; wife Percy L., 26; and children Claudett, 6, Fred L. Jr., 2, and Clarence, no age given.

Kattie Barnes died 4 December 1949 at her home at 648 Suggs Street, Wilson. Per her death certificate, she was born 15 November 1902 in Greene County to Johnnie and Alice Bynum and was married. Informant was Alice Moses of Wilson.