1901 Madison Avenue

This is a draft, now being reviewed by members of the McCrorey Heights Neighborhood Association. Please share comments with Tom@HistorySouth.org 

Built in 1963-64 for musician Calvin M. McKennie and his wife Dorothy C. McKennie, a schoolteacher. McKennie helped his relative Maurice Williams build a national career as an R&B musician, known for the enduring hit “Stay (Just a Little Bit Longer).”

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Calvin M. McKennie (1931? – 2006) was a native of Richmond, Virginia, who went off to Florida A & M to study music. The university was known as one of the top in the nation for brass players. Among McKennie’s classmates was Nat Adderly who would go on to become one of the most highly regarded saxophonists in the history of jazz. McKennie set his sights on teaching, eventually earning a Masters from New York University. He came to Charlotte in the mid 1950s, teaching at Biddleville Elementary when he built this house just a few blocks away in the early 1960s. He went on to J.T Williams Junior High, then to Ranson Junior High, retiring in the mid 1980s after thirty years as a CMS music instructor.

It is not clear how he crossed paths with young Maurice Williams. Williams was seven years McKennie’s junior, born in 1938 in Lancaster, South Carolina, an hour south of Charlotte. He loved the acapella “quartet” style of gospel music which was beginning to cross into pop music under the name “doo-wop.” He sang gospel with church friends, then doo-wop with high school buddies. While still in his mid-teens Williams put together several singing groups that toured and recorded with moderate success.

The breakthrough came when Williams created the Zodiacs in 1959 — a band that included Calvin  McKennie. (In histories of the band, his name is often spelled McKinnie.)  The group featured tight harmony singing plus a horn section. “The original guys were William Massey (tenor / baritone vocals, trumpet), Norman Wade (bass), Earl Gainey (tenor and guitarist), Willie Jones (baritone), myself, Mac Badskins was on drums, Calvin McKinnie (saxophone) and Harold Alexander (saxophone). That was it for a long time,” Williams told an interviewer in 2011.

McKennie’s school obligations limited his ability to go on road trips, but he played sax on recording sessions. In 1960 the group caught the attention of producer Al Silver who brought them into the studio in New York. “Stay,” the first single from that session, was released on the Herald label and went to number one on the Billboard R & B chart on November 21, 1960.

No subsequent recording by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs had anywhere never that success, but “Stay” was huge enough to make a career. Subsequent artists who recorded it included the Four Seasons and the Hollies (who made it a hit in Britain) in the 1960s, Jackson Brown in the 1970s, Bruce Springsteen in the 1980s and Cyndi Lauper in the 2000s. Meanwhile the Zodiacs kept touring and recording fresh material; a 1968 register of new copyrights listed Calvin McKennie as a copyright holder along with Williams on the compositions “Try” and “I’ll Be There.”

The band got a boost when “Stay” appeared on the soundtrack of the 1987 hit film Dirty Dancing. That coincided with McKennie’s retirement from the school system. He went on the road with the Zodiacs full-time, touring all over the U.S. and in the U.K. He worked as the group’s manager, played saxophone and co-led the horn section for the better part of two decades.

Madison-1901-b-web
Madison-1901-a-web

Architecture

One story Ranch style house, red-brick, under a low hip roof. It sits on site that slopes sharply to the rear; the house has a full “walk-out” basement, a feature that is a rarity in the Charlotte area. It is possible that the basement provided rehearsal space for Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs.

 

Building permits

Madison 1901 permit b
Date issued: December 4, 1963
Owner: Calvin McKennie & wife
Contractor: J. Ken Williams
Estimated cost: $13,500
Other permit info:

Madison 1901 permit a
Date issued: July 27, 1970
Owner: Calvin McKennie
Contractor: B. & E. Const. Co.
Estimated cost: $500
Other permit info: Replacing porch and three col.

First appeared in city directory

1965 – Calvin M. McKennie & Dorothy C.
He: Teacher, Biddleville Elem in ’65; Williams Jr. High in ’67.
She: Teacher, Biddleville Elem. (Also Calvin N, Jr., at this address in ’67, Teacher, Piedmont Jr. High)

1981 –