John Golden. Photo by Mary Ellen Golden

The Ocracoke community and many others mourn the death Friday night of John Golden, 79, of Wilmington.

He was married to Mary Ellen Golden.

Born March 28, 1941, in Dania, Florida, John was a son of the late John C. Golden, Sr. and Elizabeth Burroughs Golden. He attended Duke University where he met Mary Ellen, a painter with whom he had the Golden Gallery in Wilmington.

He earned a degree in civil engineering from Duke University and a master’s degree from Harvard. After graduation he went to work on dam projects for the Army Corp of Engineers in Huntington, West Virginia, where he became acquainted and developed a life-long passion for Appalachian music and folklore.

He and Mary Ellen moved to Wilmington in 1977. After retiring from the Corps at age 55, for the rest of his life, he enjoyed making music and telling stories with many friends in Wilmington and Ocracoke.

John was a gifted storyteller, and before getting into music had been a professional storyteller.

His interest in and knowledge of coastal Carolina history went all the way back to the Lost Colony, writing songs about the pirates Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard, colonial times and the Civil War blockade runners and pilots.

An engineer by trade, John was a musician by soul who loved Ocracoke.

Ocracoke had become practically a second home starting in 2000 when he made his first album in Gary Mitchell’s Soundside Recording studio where he found musical kindred spirits, especially with Mitchell and Martin Garrish.

Many got to know him from his presence at the Ocrafolk Festival where he was a performer, storyteller, and master emcee of the stages, or at the Ocracoke Preservation Society’s summer Porch Talks regaling his audiences by singing sea shanties and telling stories.

John Golden on stage at the Ocrafolk Festival. Photo by George Wood

“He was willing to try anything,” Mitchell said about Golden’s generous and adventurous spirit in learning new genres, not to just do the same music over and over again. “We did two 50s throwback albums and one of sea songs.”

Recently, a new idea blossomed—cowboy music.

This idea was realized in the most recent recording from Soundside “When We Were Cowboys,” and is an anthology of the cowboy songs fellow musician Martin Garrish grew up hearing on Ocracoke.

John produced the album “Old Jake’s Place” that celebrates a store run by Jake Alligood on Ocracoke where Martin used to listen to the jukebox as a boy.

John was supportive and generous with his fellow island musicians.

“If someone added a vocal track, he made sure they got paid,” Mitchell said.

John had a gift for getting people together to make music.

He sang for hospital patients with the Therapeutics music group weekly at New Hannover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington and supported local musicians and groups by organizing benefit concerts.

John served on the Eagle Scout Board of Review and helped countless scouts achieve that honor. He was active for many years in the Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear, the Friends of Fort Fisher and the Friends of the Battleship North Carolina.

He also has sung in church choir, taught Sunday school and worked with youth groups at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Wilmington.

In addition to his wife, John is survived by children Martha and John, daughter-in-law Lee, brother Kim (Adriana), sisters Beth (Chuck) and Debbie (Lance), three grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.

The family would like to thank all of the caregivers who helped John during his battle with cancer including EMS, ER, hospital, Zimmer Cancer Center and Lower Cape Fear LifeCare personnel.

The family suggests making a donation to your local hospice or Lower Cape Fear LifeCare (formerly Hospice) 1414 Physicians Drive, Wilmington, NC 28401, in memory of John.

The family plans to hold a hootenanny to celebrate John’s life with his musician friends and family later when the pandemic allows.

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  1. John and I, along with two others, cohosted The Magnolia Fatback Folk Hour for four years on WHQR in Wilmington, NC many years ago. A few years back, I ran into him at the annual Friday night after thanksgiving Molasses Creek concert at the Community Center. He asked me why I was on Ocracoke, and I said I’d come to hear him sing. He laughed at that, and I don’t think he believed me. It was true – if John was singing, and Molasses Creek was singing and playing, what more could I want? He will be sorely missed. My condolences to all his Ocracoke friends who love him.

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