Binkley, Brantley, Jones & Wilson Named to R.J. Reynolds Arts Hall of Fame

by Michael Eddy
R. J. Reynolds Arts Hall of Fame
R. J. Reynolds Arts Hall of Fame

Years before it become a magnet school that focused on the arts, Winston-Salem, NC’s Reynolds High School was nurturing talented students who went on to noteworthy careers in music, writing, art, and theater. On Saturday night, September 16, 13 of them will be honored by being named to the first class of the R.J. Reynolds Arts Hall of Fame. Among the honorees are lighting designer, Howell Binkley; critic, Ben Brantley; composer/sound designer, Lindsay Jones; and director, Michael Wilson.

The inaugural class of the R. J. Reynolds Arts Hall of Fame includes:

Wilton Barnhardt, novelist
Endia Beal, visual artist
Howell Binkley, lighting designer
Ben Brantley, theatre critic
Ben Folds, songwriter
Leonard Foy, musician
George Hamilton, IV singer
Lindsay Jones, composer/sound designer
Earline Heath King, sculptor
Joe King, painter
Phil Morrison, film director
Minnie Lou Raper, orchestra teacher
Michael Wilson, theatre director

Howell Binkley became a lighting designer who won Tony Awards for Jersey Boys and Hamilton. Composer and sound designer Lindsay Jones has created numerous designs and compositions for theater and television productions as well as scored more than 30 movies. Theater director Michael Wilson’s Broadway projects include The Trip to Bountiful, which won a Tony Award for Cicely Tyson. Ben Brantley wrote for Vanity Fair and the New Yorker before becoming the chief theater critic for the New York Times.

Endia Beal became internationally known for her photographic narratives that explore the lives of minority working women. Singer/songwriter Ben Folds tours internationally. George Hamilton IV, who began performing in the late 1950s as a teen idol, switched to country music in the early 1960s. Phil Morrison directed such movies as Junebug. Wilton Barnhardt wrote such novels as Lookaway, Lookaway. Joe King painted. Sculptor Earline Heath King’s legacy includes statues of such people as R.J. Reynolds. Minnie Lou Raper taught orchestra at Reynolds and played with the Winston-Salem Symphony. Trumpet player Leonard Foy has played with noted musicians throughout North and South America and Europe.

The Hall of Fame grew out of something that retired teacher Roby Walls said a couple of years ago to Karen Morris, the Arts Magnet Director. Walls noted that Reynolds had a Sports Hall of Fame to recognize graduates who excelled in sports. Didn’t it also need an Arts Hall of Fame to recognize graduates who have excelled in the arts?

Great idea, Morris thought. So, under the leadership of Morris and Principal Leslie Alexander, the school has done that. “I really appreciate all the work that the committee did to organize this event,” Alexander said. “It took a great deal of work and dedication and it is going to be a very special event. Many people know that R.J. Reynolds is an arts magnet but few people realize how many successful artists attended our school. It is definitely something to celebrate."

"RJ Reynolds high school in Winston-Salem, NC, which, in the time since I've left, has become an amazing arts magnet high school," says Lindsay Jones. "I went back this summer to visit and they now have these incredible facilities for theatre, art, dance, music, and film-making. I want to thank my former English teacher Phyllis Dunning for her support in this honor, and my former classmate Karen Morris, who now teaches at the school and organized this entire event. And I especially want to thank my parents Robyn Mixon and Whitney Jones, as well as Al Mixon and Suzanne Mewborn Jones, for their love and support then and now. I'm sure that this is the greatest shock that they've received since graduation."

Jones, added, "The most humbling part of this whole thing is who I'm being inducted with. The list is filled with people whom I've long admired and for whom I have incredible respect. Congratulations to them on this great achievement. I'm deeply touched to received this honor, and am so grateful to everyone involved. I have no idea how I got this far, but I know how lucky I am, and I never take it for granted."

On the night of Saturday, September 16, everyone – you don’t have to be a graduate of Reynolds – is invited to come to Reynolds Auditorium to celebrate the induction of the 13 members of the first class of the R.J. Reynolds Arts Hall of Fame.

Some of the inductees will be there in person. Brantley will be there on Saturday night and is sticking around to talk to Reynolds students on Monday. Wilson is coming early so that he can meet with theater students on Friday. Others planning to be there on Saturday night include Binkley, Foy, Beal, and Wilson. George Hamilton IV’s family will be there. Some inductees cannot make it. Barnhardt, for instance, is in Russia, and Folds is on tour. Some such as Hamilton, King, and Raper are no longer alive.

Everyone who comes to the celebration will be treated to a slide show that, while incorporating the artists being celebrated, covers the history of Reynolds since it opened in 1923. Reynolds is also celebrating the 60th anniversary of becoming an integrated school. “The intention is to connect to the future and to honor those impressive, important people while inspiring students through their experiences,” Morris said. The school has much to celebrate. It is in its 10th year as a magnet school, and, in August, it was one of only 55 schools throughout the country to be named a Nationally Certified Magnet School by Magnet Schools of America.