Collection Number: 70093

Collection Title: Cheyney Hales Collection of 16mm film production materials for the documentary Dink: A Pre-Blues Musician, 1974-1975

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the World Wide Web. See the Duplication Policy section for more information.


Archival processing of the Cheyney Hales Collection was made possible through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Collection Overview

Size 4 items
Abstract The Cheyney Hales Collection consists of 16mm film production elements for the documentary film, Dink: A Pre-Blues Musician (1975) by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students Cheyney Hales, Cecelia Conway, and Tommy Thompson. The film documents the life and music of James "Dink" Roberts (1894–1989), an African American old-time banjo player of Haw River, Alamance County, N.C., who made his living growing tobacco as a tenant farmer. Dink Roberts grew up in the Little Texas community of Alamance County, N.C., where he was raised by his uncle George Roberts. Early in his life he learned the clawhammer banjo style from George Roberts' older children and from other Black banjo players in the community. He gained local popularity playing the banjo for dances of both Blacks and whites in their communities and continued to enjoy playing and singing banjo songs all his life. Dink Roberts also learned to play the guitar, but his repertory remained rooted in the banjo music of the Black banjo tradition, a style of playing that predated the blues. The film shows Dink Roberts in his family setting in Alamance County performing old-time banjo, early country blues performed on guitar, and singing dance songs. Dink Roberts was filmed for this documentary in 1974-1975 by three UNC students, Cheyney Hales, a white filmmaker who shot, edited, and co-produced the film; Cecelia Conway, a white folklorist who was a co-filmmaker and producer on the film; and Tommy Thompson, a white philosophy graduate student who worked as music consultant and narrator on the film. The collection includes both 16mm picture and sound elements, including A & B rolls, optical soundtrack, and magnetic soundtrack, all of which were used to create a final 16mm composite print of the film. A digitized access copy and transcription of the complete 16mm motion picture film, Dink: A Pre-Blues Musician, is available on Folkstreams.net.
Creator Hales, Cheyney.
Language English
Back to Top

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Information For Users

Restrictions to Access
No restrictions. Open for research.
Restrictions to Use
No usage restrictions.
Copyright Notice
Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Preferred Citation
[Identification of item], in the Cheyney Hales Collection of 16mm film production materials for the documentary Dink: A Pre-Blues Musician #70093, Southern Folklife Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Acquisitions Information
Received from Cheyney Hales in November 2020 (Acc. 20201106.1).
Sensitive Materials Statement
Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, the North Carolina Public Records Act (N.C.G.S. § 132 1 et seq.), and Article 7 of the North Carolina State Personnel Act (Privacy of State Employee Personnel Records, N.C.G.S. § 126-22 et seq.). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assumes no responsibility.
Back to Top

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Subject Headings

The following terms from Library of Congress Subject Headings suggest topics, persons, geography, etc. interspersed through the entire collection; the terms do not usually represent discrete and easily identifiable portions of the collection--such as folders or items.

Clicking on a subject heading below will take you into the University Library's online catalog.

Back to Top

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Related Collections

Back to Top

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Biographical Information

James "Dink" Roberts (1894–1989) is an African American old-time banjo player of Haw River, Alamance County, N.C., who made his living growing tobacco as a tenant farmer. Dink Roberts grew up in the Little Texas community of Alamance County, N.C., where he was raised by his uncle George Roberts, who also played banjo, as well as fiddle, and later guitar, as did many of his eight children who were much older than Dink. Dink Roberts learned the clawhammer banjo style from his older cousins and from other Black banjo players in the community. He gained local popularity playing the banjo for dances of both Blacks and whites in their communities and continued to enjoy playing and singing banjo songs all his life. Select recordings of Dink Robert's appear on the Smithsonian Folkways CD Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia (1998).

Cheyney McDonald Hales is a retired white filmmaker of Siler City, N.C. Hales was born on 15 April 1947, in Durham, N.C., where he was raised. Hales graduated from Durham High School in 1965 and attended North Carolina State University in 1965 and 1966. During the summer of 1966, he worked as a door-to-door salesman in New Orleans, La.. Hales enlisted in the U.S. Army in February 1967, and served during the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1969. After his military service, Hales used the G.I. Bill to complete his education, receiving a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1975. Hales co-produced the 1975 film, Dink: A Pre-Blues Musician, on old-time musician, Dink Roberts, along with Cecelia Conway. He was also co-producer with Kay Reibold, director of the Vietnam Highlands Assistance Project for Triangle Lutheran Family Services, on the 1994 documentary film Living in Exile about the Montagnard resistance movement in Vietnam.

Cecelia "Cece" Conway is a white professor of English and Folklore at Appalachian State University. Her scholarly interests include the banjo, fiddle and other music traditions, women and literature in the South and Appalachian literature. Conway received her B.A. and M.A. in English from Duke University, and her PhD. in Folklore from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she wrote her dissertation on the African American traditions of the folk banjo. Conway is the author of the book, African Banjo Echoes In Appalachia: Study Folk Traditions (1995), which looks further at the Black banjo tradition and how white Americans borrowed the banjo from African Americans and adapted it to their own musical culture. Conway included many recorded performances by Dink Roberts in the Smithsonian Folkways CD Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia (1998), which she co-produced with folklorist and musical instrument conservator, J. Scott Odell. In both of these publications Cecelia Conway identifies and discusses a distinctive Black musical genre she named "the banjo song."

Tommy Thompson (1937-2003) was a white banjo player, who was a founding member of both the Hollow Rock String Band and the Red Clay Ramblers, as well as a playwright, composer, and actor. He was born in West Virginia in 1937, graduated from Kenyon College in 1959, and spent the next four years as a Coast Guard Officer in New Orleans, La. In 1963, Thompson entered the graduate program in Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1966, he formed the Hollow Rock String Band, a group devoted to the old time dance tunes of the southern mountains. With Jim Watson and Bill Hicks, in 1972, he formed the original Red Clay Ramblers, a three-man string band devoted to styles of early recorded country music.

Back to Top

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Scope and Content

The Cheyney Hales Collection consists of 16mm film production elements for the documentary film, Dink: A Pre-Blues Musician (1975) by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students Cheyney Hales, Cecelia Conway, and Tommy Thompson. The black and white film documents the life and music of James "Dink" Roberts (1894–1989), an African American old-time banjo player of Haw River, Alamance County, N.C., who made his living growing tobacco as a tenant farmer. Dink Roberts grew up in the Little Texas community of Alamance County, N.C., where he was raised by his uncle George Roberts. Early in his life he learned the clawhammer banjo style from George Roberts' older children and from other Black banjo players in the community. He gained local popularity playing the banjo for dances of both Blacks and whites in their communities and continued to enjoy playing and singing banjo songs all his life. The film shows Dink Roberts in his family setting in Alamance County performing old-time banjo, early country blues performed on guitar, and singing dance songs. The "Pre-Blues" music performed by Dink Roberts in the film illustrates a style of playing that predated the blues. The term refers to the banjo songs that began arriving in the eastern United States no later than 1740 in the hands of enslaved West Africans who played a gourd banjar. Enslaved African American musicians were the only ones who played the gourd banjo for almost 100 years, until Joel Sweeney of Virginia and other white musicians adapted it to their own musical culture. Dink Roberts also learned to play the guitar, but his repertory remained rooted in the banjo music of the Black banjo tradition. Dink Roberts was filmed for this documentary in 1974-1975 by three UNC students, Cheyney Hales, a white filmmaker who shot, edited, and co-produced the film; Cecelia Conway, a white folklorist who was a co-filmmaker and producer on the film; and Tommy Thompson, a white philosophy graduate student who worked as music consultant and narrator on the film. Musician and filmmaker, Lee Sloan, worked as the film's location sound recordist. The collection includes both 16mm picture and sound elements, including A & B rolls, optical soundtrack, and magnetic soundtrack, that were used to create a final 16mm composite print of the film. A digitized access copy and transcription of the complete 16mm motion picture film, Dink: A Pre-Blues Musician, is available on Folkstreams.net.

Back to Top

Contents list

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Cheyney Hales Collection of 16mm film production materials for the documentary Dink: A Pre-Blues Musician, 1974-1975.

Back to Top

expand/collapse Expand/collapse Items Separated

Back to Top

Processing Information

Processed by: Anne Wells, November 2020

Encoded by: Anne Wells, November 2020

Since August 2017, we have added ethnic and racial identities for individuals and families represented in collections. To determine identity, we rely on self-identification; other information supplied to the repository by collection creators or sources; public records, press accounts, and secondary sources; and contextual information in the collection materials. Omissions of ethnic and racial identities in finding aids created or updated after August 2017 are an indication of insufficient information to make an educated guess or an individual's preference for identity information to be excluded from description. When we have misidentified, please let us know at wilsonlibrary@unc.edu.

Archival processing of the Cheyney Hales Collection was made possible through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Back to Top