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Tuned to the key of love

Bob Garner

Bob Garner

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

One of eastern North Carolina’s and Duplin County’s favorite sons has a book coming out pretty soon. It will no doubt be received as well as his life of music, humility, humanity and public service has been.

The new book will likely be titled simply “In the Key of Love,” because his jacket photo, with a guitar in his hand, makes “tuned” superfluous. But really, nothing is more vital than frequent tuning in the performance of any soul’s song.

Charlie Albertson, the singer/songwriter, musician and retired state senator from Beulaville, knows that all guitars, like all lives, slip so easily out of tune that they require frequent checking. He sees that changing situations, challenges and opportunities require keeping one’s own existence in tune with other performances.

“In the midst of change, you’re remembering who you are and why you’re here,” he writes. “You’re trying to be the best you can be, not only for yourself but for those you meet along life’s way, those who are listening to the musical strains of your life.”

Albertson is a man who, at age 86, still seems virtually free of guile or subsurface agenda. He realizes a lot has been given to him, but he seems to have known from the beginning that a lot would be expected from him, too.

Credit that to his father, a small tobacco and soybean farmer who also tended cows, chickens and hogs with his wife and nine children. Albertson writes about how his dad, who often had to rent land to make a big enough crop, always cleaned up and improved others’ property to leave it better than he found it.

“In the Key of Love” also describes how thoroughly the father taught his children to leave other humans better off.

Albertson has four great-grandchildren, yet doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of retiring from everything but leisure. He has had a successful, 75-year music career, a 22-year legislative career and a 30-year career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

More is apparently forthcoming.

I covered his first five years in the General Assembly as a legislative reporter for UNC-TV, and I could see that the new lawmaker was already known as a talented singer — with a clear tenor voice that could have guaranteed a solid Nashville recording career if not stardom.

The main holdup? He just didn’t want to leave Beaulaville and Duplin County to move to Tennessee.

But before election to public office, Albertson toured overseas with the Armed Forces Professional Entertainment Office. He opened for big stars at the Grand Old Opry — at Ryman Auditorium, no less — and started doing all his recording in Nashville studios.

When he ran successfully for the state Senate after two years in the House, he acquired a natural title: “The Singing Senator.”

“Why do you want to keep playing that music every weekend?” his fellow centrist Democrats would chide.

After all, in an extraordinary stroke of fortune for a first-term senator, he had been appointed by Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight as chairman of the Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. He held that position for much of his career.

Even so, the unforeseen rough and tumble of politics made music even more of an essential balancing strategy for the senator.

Today, Albertson is far from satisfied with his overall sense of legislative effectiveness, due mainly to the seemingly insoluble swine industry wars of the 1990s. He’s preparing himself to become a more effective spokesman for environmental balance and technological progress going forward than he feels he was while in office.

You’ll have to read his upcoming release to discover how all his future plans mesh. So far, I believe his life has been a remarkably open book, and I can’t wait to get into the next chapters.

Bob Garner is a UNC-TV restaurant reviewer, freelance food writer, author of four cookbooks, barbecue pit master and public speaker. Contact him at bgarner2662@gmail.com.

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