KINSTON, N.C. (WITN) -When people hear names like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and Gladys Knight, they think about the impact each of them had on African American Music History, but sometimes forget about the instrumentalists who make it all come together.
Kinston resident Robert “Dick” Knight is one of those musicians. He’s known as one of Eastern Carolina’s most historic music innovators.
“To be recognized as I have been is a great honor for me,” Knight said.
Knight is a multi-instrumentalist, whose musical roots started in Georgia as his mother, father, and grandfather all played.
“My grandfather used to play the guitar, so I learned a lot from him and my mother,” Knight said.
The early exposure turned into a profound love for Knight as he would begin playing trumpet at the age of seven.
As a teen, he auditioned for the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Marching Band, with hopes of one day playing professionally.
“Went to FAMU to audition,” Knight said. “They needed three trumpet players, so I was three out of one hundred.”
After graduating from FAMU, Knight’s plan was clear for his musical future playing-wise. However, he first wanted to check teaching off his list of goals.
“I wanted to be a music teacher at the time, but then I’d seen some of the guys on the road,” Knight said.
The music department had a job placement program that gave him the choice of positions open in North Carolina. One in Kinston and one in Farmville.
“My roommate was graduating at the same time, so we flipped a coin,” Knight said. “Heads I go to Kinston, and tails he goes to Farmville.”
It turned out to be heads. The teaching job was a blessing in disguise, but it didn’t last long, as it led to Knight meeting a fellow musician named Nat Jones.
Jones was a band leader for James Brown in New York and asked Knight if he wanted to join the band.
“I got a call that said Dick Knight,” Knight said. “Do you want to be the first trumpet player for James Brown? I said yes man.”
Over the next few decades, Knight would go on to play for many music legends.
“From Otis Redding, there was Gladys Knight and the Pips,” Knight said. “Billy Stuart.”
Life in the music industry was great as Knight became a household name, especially in African American Culture. His daughter Rolisa says she remembers that growing up.
“At the time, I didn’t know that these were like famous musicians,” Knight-Elliot said. “I just knew they were dad’s friends.”
It’s safe to say that Kinston felt like home to Knight as he moved back in 1998. He says that’s because of support from the people.
“Kinston has been good to me,” Knight said. “Kinston’s a musical town, and that was one of the greater things that’s happened to me.”
Knight, aka the Captain, has certainly cemented his legacy in African American music history and he wants future generations to continue passing down the torch.
Knight continues to play today at the age of 79 and says he is open for shows if anyone needs a musician.