DURHAM – As Spectrum News celebrates Black History Month, we recognize those who have contributed to the progress of North Carolina and our nation, through politics, science, music and art.
This month we honor Ernie Barnes, a renowned Durham-born artist whose works have left a mark on the world. Barnes was a graduate of Hillside High School and North Carolina Central University, and began his career as a professional football player in 1959. He played with the Baltimore Colts, the Titans of New York, the San Diego Chargers and the Denver Broncos. After injuring himself in his fifth season as a pro football player, he decided to focus his time on and cultivate his passion for art.
That passion opened doors for him to become internationally recognized. His pieces depict his subjects as almost flowing across the canvas with extended legs and arms, painted to highlight the versatility in Black features.
His works include "The Bench", "The Disco", "High Aspirations" and "The Graduate" and can be seen on a variety of television shows, movies, billboards and music album covers. One of his most notable paintings was "The Sugar Shack,” a piece featured on the cover of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” album, in the opening of the hit show “Good Times” and has been referenced in several radio and talk shows.
"It is an image of African-American people dancing and their limbs are almost liquid in movement," said Michelle Lanier, executive director of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission. "You feel like you can hear the music of Marvin Gaye as the people are truly getting down. That party is a real party that took place in Durham, North Carolina at The Armory when he was a teenager, and he was not supposed to be at the party. But he did indeed see a woman in a yellow dress in the middle of the party and he couldn’t take his eyes away."
Barnes passed away in 2009, but his legendary paintings and expressive creations will live on. His works will be commemorated on June 29 at the North Carolina Museum of History.
To find more information, visit the NC Museum of History’s website.