Behind the Sound NC: Celebrating North Carolina musicians

By Grant Golden

March 31, 2022

North Carolina has been home to some of the most revered music acts in the past century; Nina Simone, Thelonious Monk, Doc Watson, and John Coltrane have all called the Tarheel State home. North Carolina has a breadth of talent operating in all corners of the musical spectrum, which is why we’ve decided to highlight some of the state’s finest performers. Whether it be a charismatic frontperson or a rhythmic savant serving as the glue holding a band together, we explore the upbringing, goals and inspirations of our favorite NC musicians.

Shago Elizondo

Charlotte’s Shago Elizondo has had one hell of a musical trajectory. Spending most of his youth in Charlotte after his family moved from California, he first found his musical footing in rock-oriented acts. Like most young preteen guitarists, Elizondo was inspired by acts like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, drawn to their guitar lines and affectionate lyrics. By the time he hit high school though, he was crafting his own rock tunes in Lucky 5. But rather than stick to classic rock tropes, Lucky 5 branched into funk-fusion and jazz territory that found Elizondo exploring new depth within his guitar work. Lucky 5 split in 2013, and Elizondo began to finde other ways of making a living and thriving in the music industry.


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Spending his time learning songs for cover gigs, church bands and weddings, Elizondo developed a newfound love for R&B. “I hadn’t ever listened to acts like Maxwell, D’Angelo or Jill Scott,” he said, “but I figured out this is the stuff I liked to play.” 

After years of “hired gun” gigs and short jaunts with local acts like Bear Romantic, in 2016 he received a call to join Fantastia’s touring band for one-off dates. After a self-described boot camp of rehearsal sessions, the one-offs led to tours and served as the career-launching point for the R&B guitarist. 

Elizondo has gone on to co-headline a tour with North Carolina music icon Anthony Hamilton. He eventually took over as full-time guitarist for the band and toured on tunes he’d been “obsessed with” for years. Since then, he has been on Good Morning America with gospel vocalist Tasha Cobbs Leonard, and now working alongside Charlotte upstart Natalie Carr in fleshing out her own musical production. With a knack for composition and groove-inducing guitar work, Elizondo’s musical footprint can be found far and wide across the Charlotte scene.


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Braxton Bateman

Philly born and Charlotte raised, Braxton Bateman is the grandson of legendary jazz drummer Edward Bateman Jr. (Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea). Spending the early days of his youth in Philadelphia during the onset of the neo-soul movement, Bateman soaked in iconic acts at spots like the Clef Club of Jazz & Performing Arts, but initially found himself more drawn to the visual arts. After his family moved to Charlotte, Bateman found his way to the Northwest School of the Arts, and an accidental placement in band class changed his artistic direction. As Bateman puts it, “being in an environment where everyone was free to be themselves” was monumental in the formation of his style and artistic output.


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Bateman fell in love with the trumpet at Northwest, and eventually participated in the JazzArts Charlotte program led by Lonnie and Ocie Davis. His work with JazzArts as a member of the student ensemble drove him to hone his craft, and he joined their All-Star group. More recent years have found Bateman playing alongside the B.B. King All-Stars, Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Casey Benjamin, and local outfits like Menastree.

Since the onset of the pandemic, Bateman has been honing his production skills, working on a collaborative solo album geared towards modern jazz/R&B stylings. A quick scan of the work on Bateman’s social media finds fashion styling, talkbox keys, and freeform jam, all of which indicate his forthcoming solo debut could be one of the most finely crafted releases of the year.

Sinclair Palmer

Few North Carolina musicians are as versatile as the mighty Sinclair Palmer. Based in Durham, Palmer has been gigging since they were too young to even attend the jazz clubs they performed in. Starting with orchestral violin and upright jazz bass in early school years, transcribing and arrangements helped Palmer bridge the gap between the educational and recreational music of their life. Taking tracks from artists like Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Beatles, Sinclair created string quartets and alternate arrangements, an exercise that helped to craft Palmer’s compositional skills that make them a standout in the Carolina scene.

Palmer performs full-time with a wide array of acts like the progressive punk outfit The Muslims, the queer country powerhouse Loamlands, the Americana rockers Aquarium Devils and lush folk band Violet Bell. And that’s just the full-time acts. Regardless of genre, Palmer’s playing feels both freeform and nuanced, a difficult line to toe with such varying styles. Palmer has been revered among the community as a musician that listens while on-stage rather than operating in their own lane. It’s a quality that not every musician has but it’s pivotal to a strongly rooted rhythm section. The same way people are taught to listen to understand rather than to respond, musicians must do the same.

This conversational nature in Palmer’s playing helps to make every performance as engaging as the last, but don’t expect any solo endeavors in the near future. Rather than gearing their output towards song after song of “products to sell,” Palmer’s more likely to share an ephemeral jam or high-energy rehearsal on Instagram. But with The Muslims opening for Jawbreaker, a tour in Europe, and new albums from Loamlands and Violet Bell on the horizon, Palmer’s staying plenty busy as one of the Triangle’s most unique performers.


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Stefan Kallander

Raised in a music-loving family, Charlotte’s Stefan Kallander has been ingrained in the local music community for well over ten years. Growing up playing trombone in school and eventually the guitar, Kallander eventually made his way to Berklee School of Music, where he blended business and performance, a move that has paid off in droves.

Kallander entered the scene as a founding member of Bubonik Funk in the early 2000s, and the crew of funksters became a beloved Charlotte staple playing alongside legendary acts like George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. Since then, Kallander has gone on to join the ranks of local acts like Quentin Talley & The Soul Providers, Menastree, Quilttop and nationally touring band, Satsang. Doing all of this alongside his monthly curatorial gig at Heist Brewery with his House of Funk event proves he’s an anchor in the local funk and soul scene.


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Alongside his work as a guitarist in a slew of local outfits, Kallander also helps cultivate Charlotte’s music scene as a member of Communities in Concert, a Charlotte-based crew that partners with public spaces, real estate managers, businesses, and nonprofits to create performance opportunities for local musicians. As Kallander put it, “trying to get money into musician’s pockets” became the group’s goal during the pandemic, and it’s hard to think of a better way to help fellow musicians in your community. 


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