Heritage Search

William E. Myers
Music, Jazz Wilson
Photo:Cedric Chatterley
Contact Information
  • Phone: 252-243-2526
  • Email: Gigmaster4@gmail.com
  • 2014 N.C. Heritage Award Recipient

    Bill Myers’ friends know that “Popeye” Myers, jazz musician and band leader of “The Monitors” for more than fifty years, and William E. Myers, distinguished educator, civic leader and Music Director of St. John A.M.E. Zion Church in Wilson are one and the same.  Bill credits music with bringing his contrasting experiences into a harmonious life story. “Music,” he says, “has that kind of power.”

     Music was a force in the African American community where Bill grew up in 1930s Greenville.  Early in his life, his grandmother discovered his gift for picking out tunes on the piano, and soon he was taking lessons and playing in church. In his neighborhood, bluesman Mo Griffith caught Bill’s attention:  “He used to chew tobacco and sing the blues, and I would follow him everywhere he went.” The local Elks band stirred his soul during “turning-outs,” New Orleans-style funeral processions that escorted the deceased from church to cemetery with great solemnity and paraded back with exuberance. “And I loved that! I would walk along and I’d hear trombones. I said, ‘Boy, this is what I want to do.’ I knew then that I wanted to be a musician.”

     Exploring New York City during a Sunday School convention, Bill caught Willis “Gator Tail” Jackson’s gyrating saxophone act at the Apollo Theater and knew he had found his instrument. “I said, ‘By gosh, that’s good stuff!’ So I came back home, and I wanted to play the saxophone but could not afford a saxophone.” James Thomas Edmiston, an Elks band member, loaned the young teen his sax. When Virginia State University graduate Bob Lewis became Epps High School’s bandmaster, Bill found his mentor.  “Please,” said Bill, with Edmiston’s sax in hand, “show me how to play this horn.”

     Determined to attend Virginia State, Bill studied his saxophone and joined local bands to earn money.  Inspired by memories of “Gator Tail” Jackson, he once led a screaming crowd out of a local club and around the block, honking his horn to shouts of “Blow, Popeye, blow!” At that time, Bill says, “minstrel shows would come to town. I started playing with the Winstead Mighty Minstrel Show in Wilson. And I even did a little tour with them.  I’m still a young teenager trying to do these kinds of things, but saying, ‘This is not my life.’”

     After a music degree from Virginia State and a tour of duty with the army in Korea, Bill came home and found a job teaching music and band in Elm City. “I had aspirations of being a professional musician.  That was my dream in life, to be in the bright lights, like Duke Ellington and Count Basie.” Teaching rural North Carolina’s African American children matured his ambitions, however, and he began to dream about his students’ futures. “It just brought something up in me. I stayed close to forty years, in education, because I got caught up in it myself.  And that's where my art was.  And I don't regret it at all.”  

     In classrooms and concert halls, Bill Myers is a consummate musician who changes minds and touches hearts. He has led The Monitors in countless performances, delighting generations of Eastern North Carolinians.  As a spokesman for the African American Music Trail, he brings musical virtuosity and a deep commitment to support the region’s dynamic African American heritage. "It’s what I know,” he says, “because I lived it.”