According to local historian Harris Prevost, FORUM at Lees-McRae College was conceptualized in 1978. The idea of bringing a stimulating series of cultural programs to the Banner Elk area was initiated by trustees N.J. MacDonald, a beloved benefactor to the area, and Jean Williams, a dynamic lover of the arts.
The idea was to offer a summer performance and lecture series that would attract residents from across Avery County to the Lees-McRae College Campus. By attending FORUM programs, local and summer residents could get acquainted with the college, as well as with each other. The trustees approached Dr. H.C. Evans, Lees-McRae’s visionary president, who enthusiastically supported the idea. Under Evans leadership the college provided the venue and staff support to get the series underway. FORUM was officially organized in 1979 with a small group of local and seasonal residents working with Lees-McRae College to bring a stimulating series of educational and artistic programs to the high country
In 1980 Charles Kuralt, award-winning American Journalist known for his long career with CBS including his “On the Road” segments, was brought in by local resident High Morton. The crowd was so large that people were seated on the stage! FORUM was up and running!
Early programs were often “home grown” and arranged by a committee who used personal connections to secure speakers and performers. Originally there were three of four programs per summer as well as classical films from the private collection of Dr, Evans.
A variety of top-notch programs were offered. Western North Carolina-based entertainers included legendary Doc Watson, “Piano Man of the Blue Ridge” Jeff Little and the Aldridge Sisters from the Lawrence Welk Show and Avery County.
Kuralt returned in 1986 to perform the songs from the album “North Carolina is My Home” with Beech Mountain summer resident Loonis McGlohan. Kuralt wrote the lyrics and McGlohan composed the music. Again FORUM had a full house!
Another well-known Beech Mountain summer resident and FORUM participant was General William Westmoreland. He brought in military speakers and high profile panelists to talk about current events including The Director of the FBI.
Musical performances included Metropolitan Opera star, mezzo-soprano Brenda Boozer, the Broyhill Chamber Ensemble and the North Carolina Symphony String Quartet. In 1985, FORUM hit the big time when it brought in the entire North Carolina Symphony to perform. The symphony program had to be moved to the college’s gymnasium to accommodate the size of the symphony as well as the size of the audience. This event was so popular that it became an annual program that continues to this day.
In 1988, as a tribute to Jean Williams and to celebrate its 10th anniversary, FORUM commissioned the North Carolina Symphony to perform “Gulliver” composed by Jean’s son Patrick Williams. Williams has won four Emmys, four Grammys, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and nominated for an Oscar for scoring the hit cycling film, “Breaking Away.” Williams’ music has accompanied over 40 motion pictures, over 50 television movies and over 20 TV shows such as Columbo, Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart.
Jean Williams was the first president of FORUM. During her 10 years as president, FORUM grew from a collection of “friends calling on friends” to a highly organized board of directors. FORUM continues to share a unique partnership with Lees-McRae College, using facilities and personnel from the college. The FORUM board has been able to support the partnership with Lees-McRae by providing financial support for purchases such as a Baldwin Grand piano back in 1987, as well as recent purchases of new projectors and lighting. In summer 2017, Hayes Auditorium will have new seating thanks to the support of FORUM.
FORUM president Williams established a “Program Advisory Group” in 1981 to formalize the program selection process which continues to this day! Lead by FORUM Vice-president Joan Rhyne, the committee conducts a year-long search using National Talent Agents as well as referrals from area residents. Dozens of talented performers are reviewed by the committee, which also analyzes costs and availability, and then the committee recommends a slate of 16 candidates. The FORUM Board of Directors then meets to review videos and background information and votes to select the eight “winners” who will entertain audiences each Monday throughout the summer. Programs vary each summer but have included: jazz bands, orchestras, chamber ensembles, dancers, pianists and vocalists. A wide variety of genres are offered every summer and have included: classical, country, pop, rock and roll and jazz.
The 2017 season is just around the corner with an amazing line up of performers. Programs are Monday evenings at Hayes Auditorium at Lees-McRae College. The first performance commences June 19th featuring “Three Redneck Tenors” a unique group of professionally trained opera singers who add a unique blend of humor to their performance. From the Tokyo Opera House to “America’s Got Talent” these musicians gather fans around the globe! It takes remarkable talent to successfully combine stand-up comedy with classic opera arias and “Three Redneck Tenors” provide an amazing evening of entertainment.
List of Programs within FORUM series:
June 19, 2017 – Three Redneck Tenors— Classically trained singers combine comedy with opera and perform a smorgasbord of songs and music!
June 26, 2017 – Double Grandѐ – Duet pianos bring a high energy, Las Vegas style show filled with music, comedy, and impressions
July 3, 2017 – Western Piedmont Symphony Orchestra– Full orchestra entertains with “Music from Stage and Cinema” including the new Star Wars films.
July 10, 2017 – Vivace— Modern and thrilling combination of four unique and exceptional pop and classical singers from Vancouver
July 17, 2017 – Scotch, Soul, Rock and Roll— Ron Gartner entertains at theaters, performing art centers, nightclubs, and concert venues from coast to coast.
July 24, 2017 – The Joe Gransden Big Band — One of the busiest groups on the jazz scene, performing numerous shows around the country.
July 31, 2017 – Barbra and Frank — The Concert That Never Was—Impressive impersonators Sharon Owens and Sebastian Anzaldo step on the stage to become the iconic Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra.
August 7, 2017 – The Broadway Boys—Six of the hottest male voices currently working on the New York stage perform show tunes and classic pop songs
For additional information go to: www.Lmc.edu/forum
Patrons receive a season ticket for all 8 shows for only $140. Centurion level patrons have preferred seating and parking for $450. Only 750 season tickets are available so get your seats today. Contact:
Sandy Ramsey at 828-898-8748 [email protected]