04/13/08 — Composer honored by Wayne Community College Foundation

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Composer honored by Wayne Community College Foundation

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 13, 2008 11:28 AM

Velton Ray Bunch gave an Emmy award-winning performance to his hometown crowd Saturday night in Moffatt Auditorium at Wayne Community College.

For more than two hours, he demonstrated, often without words, why his talent has been recognized in Hollywood over the years.

Bunch, a 1966 graduate of Goldsboro High School, was the honoree for the 2008 Arts and Humanities gala, sponsored by the Wayne Community College Foundation. In addition, an endowment will be established at the college in his name.

Hardy Sullivan, one of Bunch’s classmates, served as emcee for Saturday night’s program. For about 30 minutes, he reminisced and posed questions to his friend.

The most glaring questions, he said, would have to be, “How did you get from Daisy Street to Beverly Hills? How did you go from playing piano at Grace Baptist Church and the Salvation Army to get an Emmy?

“But most importantly, how did this Emmy-winning composer stay grounded?”

The candid and comfortable conversation between the two, Sullivan said, was designed to “get a hometown feel of why we’re so proud of him and why we’re so glad he’s come back.”

Bunch inherited his love of music from his father, the late Velton Sr., who was a drummer and a pianist himself. Other influences included Floyd Cramer and Ray Charles, as well as gospel and rhythm and blues musical styles.

To pay for his dollar-a-lesson piano instruction, Bunch said he sold Grit Magazine, cut grass and along with brothers Steve and Rodney sold peanuts downtown acquired from Smith’s Hardware on John Street.

An avid baseball player during his days at Goldsboro High, he also participated in the annual stunt night.

“I still think that’s when I really realized that I might be pretty good” in music, Bunch said. “I remember putting those shows together. It was such a rush to get those little skits done.”

When he went on to East Carolina University, he was confronted with the choice — music or baseball, both which took a lot of discipline to develop. He chose music theory and composition.

Thinking back to his first ventures composing, though, Bunch admitted his styling hadn’t always been the best.

Recalling one of the very first ditties, he said it was inspired after an altercation with another student at William Street School, resulting in his being escorted home by the scruff of his neck, with his principal attached.

The homage, penned with a ’50’s feel, ended with the principal being “hit by a low-flying bird.”

It might have worked out well, except for the misstep of singing it for friend Jarvis James the next day in the boys’ room, only to find the principal waiting in the doorway as they excited.

“Back home again,” Bunch said.

After high school, he went on to make his first record.

Entitled “Rhapsody of Loneliness,” the instrumental featured Ray on piano, brother Steve on drums.

“Ray and Steve went down to Atlanta to cut this record, kind of a Floyd Cramer style of music,” Rodney said. “They got there and learned there was a flip side to every record. They hadn’t written anything, so they just did the other side, with ‘Everybody Ought to Go to Sunday School.’”

The next step was to sell his music to a big producer.

“He got this bright idea of taking it up to New York, though he was going to make it rich,” says his mother, Dottie Harper, who now lives in Pinehurst.

In a taped interview, she shared how her son drove to New York to sell the record. Unfortunately, it was Thanksgiving and businesses were closed.

“So he got back in the car and came home,” she said.

Cue the music. A copy of the 45 rpm single obtained for the program was played for the audience.

While these days Bunch might be in great demand for his musical prowess, that was not the case four decades ago, Rodney noted. Then, he said, singles could probably be purchased for about a dollar.

“I think by the time he got back from New York, you could probably buy his record five for a dollar,” he joked. “Most of the records would be in boxes at the house for years. We couldn’t even give them away.”

Immediately after graduating from college, Bunch went to Los Angeles for the first time. He admits he was ill-prepared for the experience and returned to Goldsboro after a year. He was hired by Bryan Sutton to work at WAGES, saving his money before returning to California.

Networking proved beneficial, resulting in him finding a mentor and friend in Mike Post.

Post, Sullivan explained, “is to music what Steven Spielberg is to movies.”

In a taped segment, Post said, “The thing that struck me most is the thing that has endured over the years –– (Ray’s) about as good a friend as anybody would want to have ... and he’s what you call in this business really talented.”

In addition to performing some of his own compositions Saturday night, Bunch incorporated his children, Farah, in a gospel song first performed on a Dolly Parton special, and son Justin — along with brother Rodney, Rooster Narron, Sullivan and Casey Sutton, who also sang “I’m So Excited” — in a skit paying tribute to former GHS Coach George Whitfield, entitled “Whitfield’s Folly.”

Gospel singer D.J. Coles and the Chords of Praise also performed.