50 Famous People From North Carolina

North Carolina is home to many famous people from movie stars to singers to athletes to historical figures.

To keep the list from getting out of hand, I instituted two rules. First, the person must have been born in North Carolina. Secondly, they must have lived in North Carolina for at least five years.

Old blue and red North Carolina sign that says "Greetings from North Carolina, The Tar Hell State."

If you compare this list to others, you’ll find the criteria removed quite a few people. That doesn’t mean they aren’t true North Carolinians. It’s just a fun way to learn more about our famous residents.

I even added an Honorable Mention because one person needed to be on this list despite the criteria.

Read on for famous North Carolinians.

Actors and Actresses

North Carolina has no shortage of talented actors. Several movies and television shows have been filmed in the state, strengthening our ties to the industry. You may be surprised by a few names on the list.

Ava Gardner

Born December 24, 1922, in Grabtown, NC (near Smithfield). Ava graduated from high school in Wilson County.

Smithfield is home to the Ava Gardner Museum which sponsors an annual festival in her honor.

Known for: Hollywood actress known for her role as Kitty Collins in “The Killers”.

Murray Hamilton

Born March 24, 1923, in Washington, NC. He attended Washington High School.

Known for: He has many films under his belt but may be most recognizable as Mayor Larry Vaughn in “Jaws”.

Mayberry Sheriff badge decal on the side of a car.

Andy Griffith

Born Jun 1, 1926, in Mount Airy, NC. Andy grew up in Mount Airy and attended UNC-Chapel Hill University.

Mount Airy was used as the inspiration for Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show.  

Known for: Sheriff Andy in “The Andy Griffith Show”.

Soupy Sales

Born Milton Supman January 8, 1926, in Franklinton, NC. His father passed away when Sales was five and the family moved to Huntington, West Virginia.

Known for: Best known for his children’s television series, “Lunch with Soupy Sales”.

Emily Procter

Born October 8, 1968, in Raleigh, NC. She attended Ravenscroft School and East Carolina University. Emily was also a television weather anchor in Greenville, NC.

Known for: Best known for her role as Calleigh Duquesne in “CSI Miami”.

Zach Galifianakis

Born October 1, 1969, in Wilkesboro, NC. Zack attended Wilkes Central High School and North Carolina State University.  

Known for: A staple in Hollywood, Zach is best known for his role as Alan Garner in “The Hangover”.

Bellamy Young

Born (Amy Maria Young) February 19, 1970, in Asheville, NC. She attended Asheville High School.

Known for: Best known for her role as Melody “Mellie” Grant in the TV show “Scandal”.

Michael C. Hall

Born February 1, 1972, in Raleigh, NC.  He graduated from Ravenscroft School, a private school for elementary through High School students.  

Known for: Hall has an impressive resume of TV, film, and theatre, but is most recognized as Dexter Morgan in “Dexter”.

Jaime Pressly

Born July 30, 1977, in Kinston, NC. She lived in the area with her family until they moved to California in 1992.  

Known for: Best known for her role as Jill Kendall in the TV show “Mom”.

Evan Rachel Wood

Born September 7, 1987, in Raleigh, NC. Her father, Ira David Wood III, is a prominent actor, theater director, and playwright in Raleigh.

Known for: Wood is an in-demand actress who fans may know best as Dolores Abernathy in HBO’s “Westworld”.

Christophe Sanders

Born April 21, 1988, in Arden, NC. He grew up in Hendersonville, NC.

Known for: Sanders may be best known for his role as Kyle Anderson on the TV show “Last Man Standing”.

Singer/Songwriters

Besides being a hotbed for American Idol winners, North Carolina has a strong history in Bluegrass and Country Music.

Doc Watson

Born Arthel Lane Watson on March 3, 1923, in Deep Gap, NC. He lost his eyesight at the age of 2 and attended the Governor Morehead School in Raleigh, NC.

Known for: Doc was known for his flatpick work and is credited as an influential figure during the folk music revival.

Earl Scruggs

Born January 6, 1924, in Cleveland County, NC.

Known for: Scruggs popularized a three-finger banjo picking style, now a defining characteristic of bluegrass music.

John Coltrane

Born September 23, 1926, in Hamlet, NC.  He grew up in High Point and attended William Penn High School.

Known for: Coltrane was a jazz saxophonist, composer, and bandleader known as one of the most influential figures in the history of jazz.

Nina Simone

Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21, 1933, in Tryon, NC. She attended the Allen High School for Girls in Asheville, NC.

Known for: A civil rights activist, singer, pianist, and songwriter, her most recognizable song may be “I Put a Spell on You”.

Charlie Daniels on stage playing his violin.

Charlie Daniels

Born October 28, 1936, in Wilmington, NC. His family moved to Gulf, NC (in Chatham County when he was a teenager.

Known for: A prolific singer and songwriter, most fans will recognize Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”.

Ben E. King

Born September 28, 1938, in Henderson, NC. His family moved to Harlem, NY when he was nine.

Known for: King is the singer and co-composer of “Stand by Me”.

Ronnie Milsap

Born January 16, 1943, in Robbinsville, NC. He was sent to the Governor Morehead School for the blind in Raleigh, NC at the age of 5.

Known for: Milsap was one of the most influential country artists in the 70s and 80s. Most authorities list his most acclaimed hit as “It Was Almost Like a Song”.

Randy Travis

Born Randy Bruce Traywick on May 4, 1959, in Marshville, NC.

Known for: An active country and gospel music singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Travis’ most famous song may be “Forever and Ever, Amen”.

Ben Folds

Born September 12, 1966, in Winston-Salem, NC. He attended Richard J. Reynolds High School.

Known for: As a member of Ben Folds Five, the hit song “Brick” is arguably a song most people will remember.

Eric Church

Born May 3, 1977, in Granite Falls, NC. He attended South Caldwell High School and Appalachian State University.

Known for: Church’s career has taken off with his more recent hits being “Hell of a View,” and “Springsteen”.

Clay Aiken

Born November 30, 1978, in Raleigh, NC.

Known for: Aiken is most known for his second-place finish on season two of American Idol. He has remained an active musician, TV and film actor, and appeared on Broadway. Recently, he’s expressed interest in entering the political arena.

Chris Daughtry

Born December 26, 1979, in Roanoke Rapids, NC, and raised in Lasker, NC until he was 14.

Known for: After his fourth-place finish on Season five of American Idol, Daughtry formed a band with his name. He’s considered the third most successful American Idol alumni in terms of record sales.

Fantasia Barrino

Born June 30, 1984, in High Point, NC. She attended Andrews High School.

Known for: The winner of American Idol’s third season, Barrino remains an active singer and actor. She’s starred in films, Broadway plays, and won a Grammy.

Kellie Pickler

Born June 28, 1986, in Albemarle, NC. She graduated from North Stanly High School in New London, NC.

Known for: Finishing sixth on season five of American Idol, Pickler used the platform to grow her singing career. She also stars in the “I Love Kellie Pickler” TV show and had a brief talk show, “Pickler & Ben”.

Luke Combs

Born March 2, 1990, in Charlotte, NC, and moved to Asheville, NC at the age of 8.

Known for: With an impressive country music resume, Combs is just getting started. While he has many songs to choose from, many fans can relate to “When it Rains it Pours”.

Scotty McCreery

Born October 9, 1993, in Garner, NC.

Known for: McCreery won season ten of American Idol and has been releasing top country songs ever since. While he may have bigger hits, since this is a list of “People From North Carolina,” I’m going to pick “Carolina to Me” as his best song. But “You Time” may be more well known.

US Presidents

North Carolina is home to two US Presidents. Technically, some people add President Andrew Jackson to this list, however, it’s unclear if he was born in North or South Carolina. Regardless, it’s clear the family was living in South Carolina before he was a year old.

James Polk

Born November 2, 1795, in Pineville, NC.

Known for: Polk became the eleventh President of the United States in 1844.

Andrew Johnson

Born December 29, 1808, in Raleigh, NC.

Known for: Johnson became the seventeenth President of the United States in 1865 after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Sports Figures

This is the section that can get out of hand fast. I’m sure there are many other notable sports players not listed here. That doesn’t diminish their impact to North Carolina or their sports.

Buck Leonard

Born Walter Fenner Leonard on September 8, 1907, in Rocky Mount, NC.

Known for: A first baseman in the Negro League Baseball, Leonard was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

Enos Slaughter

Born April 27, 1916, in Roxboro, NC.

Known for: Slaughter was a right fielder noted for his time playing for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Charlie Sifford

Born on June 2, 1922, in Charlotte, NC.

Known for: Sifford was the first African American to play on the PGA Tour. He won multiple conferences including the Greater Hartford Open, the Los Angeles Open, and the PGA Seniors’ Championship. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004.

Prince Nufer Dixon

Born May 8, 1924, in Goldsboro, NC.

Known for: Dixon was America’s top female swimmer in the 1930s and 40s. In 1941, she set the world record for the 50-meter backstroke.

The Harlem Globetrotters star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Meadowlark Lemon

Born Meadow Lemon III on April 25, 1932, in Wilmington, NC. He attended Williston Industrial School.

Known for: Lemon may just be the greatest baseball player of all time playing for the Harlem Globetrotters. He was also an ordained minister and ran Meadowlark Lemon Ministries which opened in 1994.

Sonny Jurgensen

Born Christian Jurgensen III on August 23, 1934, in Wilmington, NC.

Known for: Jurgensen played football for the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins. He’s known as the finest “pure passer” of his time.

Fred “Curly” Neal

Born May 19, 1942, in Greensboro, NC. He attended James B. Dudley High School and Johnson C. Smith University.

Known for: A member of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, Neal was recognizable thanks to his shaved head. He was the team’s featured ballhandler, which was a key role for their exhibitions.

Jim “Catfish” Hunter

Born April 8, 1946, in Hertford, NC. He attended Perquimans County High School.

Known for: Hunter was a pitcher for Kansas City and New York Yankees. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.

Kathy McMillan

Born November 7, 1957, in Raeford, NC.

Known for: McMillan competed in the Long Jump at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Canada. She was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2021.

NASCAR

Thanks to the North Carolina mountains being well-known for their moonshine stills during prohibition, it’s no surprise that NASCAR has deep roots here. What else were the crazy drivers taking steep and curvy mountain roads at high speed with no lights supposed to do when prohibition ended?

You can find one of the original dirt NASCAR tracks from the inaugural 1949 season in Hillsborough, NC.

Several stock cars rounding a turn in a NASCAR race.

Lee Petty

Born March 14, 1914, in Randleman, NC.

Known for: Petty raced stock cars during the 1950s and 1960s. He was the first three-time Cup champion.

Junior Johnson

Born Robert Glenn Johnson Jr. on June 28, 1931, in Ronda, NC.

Known for: Johnson won 50 NASCAR races during the 1950s and 60s.

Richard Petty

Born July 2, 1937, in Level Cross, NC.

Known for: Petty was the first driver to win the Cup Series championship seven times. He won 200 races during his career including seven times at the Daytona 500.

Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Born April 29, 1951, in Kannapolis, NC.

Known for: Earnhardt Sr. ties with Petty and Jimmie Johnson for earning seven Winston Cup championships. He died in a sudden crash during the Daytona 500 in 2001, a race where his son was also competing.

Dale Jarrett

Born November 26, 1956, in Conover, NC. He attended Newton-Conover High School.

Known for: Jarrett is best known for winning the Daytona 500 three times. He replaced Rusty Wallace as the ESPN lead racing analyst in 2008, then moved to NBC Broadcasting in 2015.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Born October 10, 1974, in Kannapolis, NC.

Known for: Earnhardt Jr. has won the Daytona 500 twice and the Most Popular Driver Award fifteen consecutive times.

News Personalities

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has one of the best journalism programs in the United States. It’s little wonder that two of the most well-known journalists are not only from North Carolina but also graduates from UNC-Chapel Hill.

David Brinkley

Born July 10, 1920, in Wilmington, NC. He attended New Hanover High School and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Known for: Brinkley was a well-known newscaster for NBC and ABC from 1943 to 1997. He has ten Emmy Awards, three Peabody awards, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Charles Kuralt

Born September 10, 1934, in Wilmington, NC. He attended Charlotte’s Central High School and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Known for: Kuralt may be best known for his “On the Road” segments on “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite”. He then anchored the CBS News Sunday Morning for fifteen years. He has two Peabody awards and an Emmy.

Authors

While many authors were born in North Carolina, and others moved here later in life, there are three that have always called the state home.

O. Henry

Born William Sydney Porter on September 11, 1862, in Greensboro, NC.

Known for: Porter is known best for his short stories. “The Gift of the Magi” may be his best-known work.

Thomas Wolfe

Born October 3, 1900, in Asheville, NC.

Wolfe may be best known for his first book, “Look Homeward, Angel”. You can learn more about his life at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial in Asheville, NC. The Memorial is the third stop on the Hop On/Hop Off Trolley.

Margaret Maron

Born August 25, 1938, in Greensboro, NC.

Known for: Maron is known for the Judge Deborah Knott series of novels set in the south.

Other People of Note

Billy Graham

Born November 7, 1918, in Charlotte, NC.

Known for: Graham is an evangelist and Southern Baptist minister. He is known for his large, televised rallies and sermons.

Honorable Mention

Michael Jordan

Born February 17, 1963, in Brooklyn, NY. Jordan’s family moved to Wilmington, NC in 1968. You can say that Michael grew up in North Carolina. Besides being known as a basketball great, he’s done a lot for our state.

While he’s donated millions to help underserved residents of NC, most notably he donated $10 million dollars to two hospitals to build community health clinics targeting uninsured and underinsured individuals.

Besides purchasing a share in the Charlotte Hornets, he’s also launched several restaurants and a car dealership. He hosts the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational golf tournament which benefits several different foundations.

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