(July 15, 1938 – April 27, 2009)
Like so many, I grew up seeing this man’s phenomenal art on the TV show ‘Good Times’ while never knowing his name. Ernie Barnes was an African American painter. He was also a professional football player and author. Born and raised in Durham, NC, Barnes described himself as a chubby child with little athletic skill who was often picked on by his classmates. One day while hiding out on school grounds working in his sketchbook he was discovered by the masonry teacher, Tommy Tucker, who was also the weightlifting coach and a former athlete. That encounter lead to Barnes’ discipline and dedication that lasted throughout his life. By the time he graduated from Hillside High School in 1956, he had 26 athletic scholarship offers. The promise of a car from his mother influenced his decision to stay close to home and attend the all-Black North Carolina College. He majored in art on a full athletic scholarship and played tackle & center for NCC’s football team. While on a class field trip to the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, which was recently desegregated, Barnes asked where he could find “paintings by Negro artists.” The tour guide responded, “your people don’t express themselves that way.” 22 years later in 1978, Barnes returned to the museum for a solo exhibition. But, before he made a name for himself as an artist, he was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1959 and later played for the Titans, Chargers, Broncos and the CFL before retiring in 1965. That same year, Barnes was retained as a salary player and told “You have more value to the country as an artist than as a football player.” In 1984 he was appointed the Official Sports Artist for the Games of the XXIII Olympiad. From 1976 to 2000 his work has graced the album covers of artist such as B.B. King, Curtis Mayfield, The Crusaders, Donald Byrd & Marvin Gaye.
He was an amazing man and artist. Look him up.
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