Helping communities across the state connect their heritage arts and traditions to local development, education, and active citizenship
By Cameron Eaton
Vance County, NC
Skills: Public Presentations, Teaching
X-Generation bandleader Cameron Eaton remembers his first day as a member of North Carolina A&T’s marching band. As the director signaled for the band to begin, Eaton recalls that the first downbeat “was like a wall of sound flowing through my body…It hooked me. I felt like I had a reason and purpose in life at that point.”
A native of Henderson, Eaton picked up his first instrument—a toy xylophone—at the age of three. By the time he was six, he was playing piano and singing, both in the church and at home. “I always heard music,” says Eaton. “When I was playing, I would hear music chiming in my ear. It was always something that was with me, whether I had an instrument or not.”
In elementary school, he began to play the flutophone; by middle school, he graduated to brass instruments, beginning with trumpet and eventually cycling through the euphonium, baritone trumpet, and tuba. “Basically, I tried to play everything,” he laughs.
It was in high school that Eaton immersed himself fully in music. “Music comforted me in so many ways,” says Eaton. “When I was going through troubles, I would listen to music or play music or go somewhere and sing.” At the same time, Eaton began learning about North Carolina’s rich African American marching band tradition and became determined to attend college. In 2002, Eaton enrolled as a music major at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro.
"People would say, 'You people at A&T are crazy. You practice harder than the football team. And I believe we did…It was a very physical thing."
Upon graduation, Eaton returned to Vance County, where he volunteered with the band program at the local middle school. He also began collecting instruments in hopes of putting together a community group for Henderson’s disenfranchised youth. After inheriting the directorship of a local drill team in 2008, Eaton christened the group X-Generation and began working with the kids, using legendary North Carolina black marching bands as their models. The group quickly swelled in numbers from three to nearly two dozen, and Eaton has since led the band in Henderson’s annual Christmas Parade and the Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration in Durham.