Worst Nickname Story for a City

Spartanburg, South Carolina. Ninety miles northeast of the state’s capital of Columbia. Two hundred miles from Charleston. Nickname: “Sparkle City.”

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Spartanburg, SC over the last few years because the company I work for has an office there. On one visit someone in our office mentioned one of the city’s nicknames: “Sparkle City.” With a nickname like that, I was naturally inclined to inquire about the origin. My guess was a precious metal mine, or perhaps a natural spring. Something obvious. Despite my routine questioning of locals, no one seemed to know the nickname’s origin. I thought this was odd because it’s a rather bold nickname for a city, as nicknames for cities go.

In fact, let’s pause and run through a few obvious city nicknames (because putting a finer point on this is soooo necessary):

Vegas is Sin City. Ok, not hard to justify that one.

Detroit is the Motor City. Again, obvious.

New York City, to some, is simply The City.

Denver is the Mile High City. No explanation needed.

Even Oz is the Emerald City for an obvious reason.

So you’d think Sparkle City would be no different, right? Well that’s what I thought, but I was wrong.

Here’s the thing. Back in the late 1950s there was a bebop band who went by the name Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones. That’s it. That’s the origin of the nickname. Some enterprising civic leader (I’m speculating here) managed to leverage the success of Joe Bennett and his crew to come up with Sparkle City. And now we are all scratching our heads 60 plus years later.

I think a few moments may be needed for you to process this, because there’s a fair amount of disappointment to work through. So please, feel fee.

Ok, welcome back.

Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones reportedly hailed from Spartanburg, SC, but in my research I discovered the members actually came from Cowpens, SC, the next town over. Poor Cowpens. They were jipped! I should be writing this post about their lame town nickname! They do have a historic Revolutionary War battlefield though.

Now don’t let Spartanburg’s poor excuse for a nickname take away from Joe Bennett and his band (and yes, there’s a web site: joebennettandthesparkletones.com). Listen to their songs and you’ll find they are kind of catchy, in a late-1950s-pop kind of way. And I intend no disrespect to the city of Spartanburg. I just think adopting a nickname based on a moderately successful 1950s bebop band because they were on the Ed Sullivan Show and Dick Clark’s American Band Stand a couple of times is a bit of a stretch. Stick with The Burg. That makes more sense.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones:

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5 Responses to Worst Nickname Story for a City

  1. Love the diverse elements you put together–great post. And great vid–BLACK SLACKS is stuck in my head! Oh, love that you “questioned the locals.” Top notch.

    • Wow, thanks for the nice feedback! I’ve told this story several times and it hit me a few days ago that it would make for a fun post.

      Black Slacks can definitely stick in your head!

  2. Linda Frechette says:

    Hi Trent,
    I really enjoyed reading about the “why” of Sparkle City, very true that Cowpens got gypped, no glory for them but the legacy of Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones lives on in Spartanburg!

  3. Richard Cribb Jr. says:

    Spartanburg’s traditional nickname is the Hub City, a reference to railroad tracks that radiate out of it like a the spokes of a wheel. A 2nd less well known theory about the origin of the nickname nickname Sparkle City is that it was a WW2 secret service code name for Spartanburg.

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