N.C. Department of Correction--Correction News--June 1998

Processing assistant is a one-man band

RALEIGH — One might say Larry Carringer leads a double life. During the day, Carringer works at Central Prison as a processing assistant III. It’s a steady job, he says. Each day is pretty much like the next.

Working at Central Prison, Carringer, naturally, comes in contact with inmates on a daily basis - many who have killed, raped, robbed, and kidnapped.

Even though he’s been working at Central Prison since 1973 - practically his entire adult life - very few know about Carringer’s other life, about his passion.

"When I first came to work back in 1973, my boss told me to keep my personal life and my job separate. He told me not to bring my personal life into my job or take my job with me out into my personal life."

Such advice has kept Carringer’s co-workers from knowing more about the man who takes inmate and staff ID pictures and types up case reports into OPUS. Many have no idea that on the first Wednesday night of each month, Carringer leaves the world of prisons behind and enters the world of ballroom dancing just one mile down the road from where he works during the day. Instead of inmates, Carringer is surrounded by graceful couples gliding around the dance floor at the Pullen Park Community Center.

Set up at the end of the room with two keyboards and a drum machine, Carringer is a one-man band playing big band tunes straight out of the thirties and forties. This is the music Carringer grew up with - the music he loves. And when Carringer plays, people not only listen - they dance.

Carringer easily moves from a waltz to a swing and then on to a tango. "I try to mix up the dances. I try to feel the crowd out and see where the action is." On this particular night the action seems to be with the polkas and the tangos, but many still prefer to dance to the more traditional waltzes and fox trots.

Carringer plays each song from memory. Sheet music has no part in his show. Over the years, Carringer has memorized and worked out arrangements for more than 1200 songs. Yet, he says 1200 is still not enough. "I need to know enough to be able to cover everyone’s requests," he said.

Carringer began playing the piano as a child. Both his mother and two sisters played the piano and his father was a bluegrass fiddler. Even though he had years of formal training, Carringer said he does much better learning songs from ear than he does reading sheet music. "Music is in my blood. I have perfect pitch. If I hear a note, I know what it is."

Carringer continued to play piano while in college at N.C. State University where he received his degree in English and was active in the NCSU bands. Through friends, he broke in with a big band called the Ambassadors that played for large affairs, usually held at country clubs or hotel ballrooms. These days, Carringer says a lot of ballroom dancing takes place in senior centers and church gyms where informal groups like the Pullen Park Dance Club get together on a regular basis.

Carringer began playing for the Pullen Park crowd in 1993 when another entertainer retired. He auditioned for the open slot and was put on the regular rotation. From there, calls started coming in for other functions. In addition to his regular Wednesday night gig, Carringer also plays for other dances, receptions and parties.

Sitting behind his keyboards playing "String of Pearls" from the Glenn Miller Band while dancers keep step to the music, Carringer is in his own world far away from the reality of his day job where very little music and dancing takes place. At 10:30 p.m., he plays his last song of the evening. He then packs up all his equipment and heads home to get some rest - for tomorrow’s another day, and there will certainly be plenty of IDs to take and plenty of case work to type up back at Central Prison in the morning. u

NC DOC Correction News- June 1998
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