Songwriter John D. Loudermilk of Durham

Loudermilk (second from the left) plays guitar aboard an airplane for Luther Hodges (third from the left) and others. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

On March 31, 1934, songwriter John D. Loudermilk was born in Durham.

Loudermilk learned to play instruments at the Salvation Army church he attended as a child, and his mother taught him to play a cigar box ukulele built by his father. At age 13, he performed on Durham radio station WTIK as Little Johnny Dee, his recording name on the Colonial label.

While working as a handyman for WTVD, the station let Loudermilk perform “A Rose and a Baby Ruth” on air. He had written the song first as a poem and later set it to music. After George Hamilton IV recorded a version in 1956, Loudermilk’s career began to take off.

Loudermilk’s star continued to rise after his 1957 recording of “Sittin’ in the Balcony” made the Top 40. The song made the Top 20 when it was covered by Eddie Cochran later that same year.

As his career progressed, he found more success as a songwriter than as a performer. He wrote country and pop music hits for the Everly Brothers, Chet Atkins, Paul Revere & the Raiders (“Indian Reservation”), The Casinos (“Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye”) and Johnny Tillotson (“Talk Back Trembling Lips”).

Loudermilk was enshrined in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.  He died September 21, 2016, and was buried in Tennessee.

Check out the N.C. Arts Council’s guide to the Performing Arts in North Carolina for more on experiencing authentic Tar Heel music.

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