blue ridge music trails

Male and female musicians singing in front of mic
David Simchock

The husband-and-wife duo of Natalya Zoe Weinstein and John Cloyd Miller perform under their middle names. Zoe and Cloyd represent not only the partnership between Natalya and John, but a coming-together of two families’ musical traditions. Natalya is the daughter of a jazz pianist, and the granddaughter of a Russian klezmer musician. She herself plays klezmer and classical as well as mountain music.

The Primitive Quartet began in 1973, when two sets of brothers, Reagan and Larry Riddle and Furman and Norman Wilson, carried a guitar and mandolin with them on a fishing trip to Fontana Lake. The boys all sang at home and in church, but that night in Graham County was when they first sang in four-part harmony. After the fishing trip, with the encouragement of their parents and pastor, they began to sing together at area churches.

Image of Lula and Glenn Bolick
NC Arts Council

Glenn and Lula Bolick of Caldwell County are 2018 winners of the N.C. Heritage Award, the state’s highest honor for traditional artists. Lula is a member of the Owens family of Piedmont potters. Glenn grew up in a family whose heritage of music-making, sawmilling, and storytelling goes back generations. He carries on all three arts today, in addition to the pottery-making that he learned from Lula and her family.

Woman smiling holding banjo
Blue Ridge National Heritage Area

Many of today’s outstanding old-time and bluegrass musicians carry on longstanding family traditions. One such artist is multi-instrumentalist and flatfoot dancer Marsha Bowman Todd. A musician all her life, Marsha is one of the leading lights of the legendary musical community of Mount Airy, North Carolina.

Blue Ridge National Heritage Area

Chester McMillian is a legend of old-time guitar in Mount Airy, NC, playing the distinctive Round Peak music of Surry County for decades. McMillian grew up in a family of musicians and started playing early in life when his father helped make him a cigar-box guitar.

Ola Belle Reed
http://www.blueridgeheritage.com

Ola Belle Campbell was just a teenager in 1934 when her family moved from Ashe County, NC, to Maryland, but she was already a skilled mountain banjo player and singer. At her first radio gig in 1939, Ola Belle sang the “St. Louis Blues." Her voice overpowered the broadcasting equipment and knocked the station off the air. In 1949 she became Ola Belle Reed when she married country musician Bud Reed. Their influence is still felt in the thriving bluegrass scene around Baltimore.

Etta Baker picked up her ragtime influenced style of fingerpicking at the age of 3 from her father. She became a master of the Piedmont Blues, influencing musicians like Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.  Etta practiced her two-finger picking style an hour every day in addition to raising nine children with her musician husband. After raising nine children and working 26 years at a Morganton textile mill, she quit at age 60 to become a professional musician.

Today, the tradition of ballad singing is alive and well in the North Carolina mountains thanks in part to Sheila Kay Adams, a seventh generation singer.  Raised in the community of Sodom in Madison County, Adams learned from her great aunt Dellie Chandler Norton, sitting together and repeating the verses to each other knee-to-knee until the songs were “caught.”

When English, Irish, and Scottish settlers moved into Appalachia, they brought an ancient form of music with them – the ballad. The isolated mountains drew song collectors like Englishman Cecil Sharp. In Madison County, Sharp collected several hundred songs – including 70 from Jane Hicks Gentry from Hot Springs.

Doc Watson’s signature baritone voice and unique lead bluegrass guitar licks became synonymous with traditional and bluegrass music. Born in Deep Gap, N.C., Doc lost his vision before his first birthday but never let his blindness slow him down, learning ballads and teaching himself harmonica, banjo and guitar. Since his death in 2012, Doc remains the most highly respected flat-pick guitar player in the history of traditional American music.

When English, Irish and Scottish settlers moved into Appalachia, they brought an ancient form of music with them – the ballad. The isolated mountains drew song collectors like Englishman Cecil Sharp. In Madison County, Sharp collected several hundred songs – including 70 from Jane Hicks Gentry from Hot Springs.

Brasstown, in the far southwest corner of North Carolina, is home to the John C. Campbell Folk School founded in 1925. Its founder Olive Dame Campbell collected the music of the region, including ballads and fiddle tunes. Today, people from all over the world travel to the Folk School to begin their day with Morningsong and attend classes in everything from mandolin playing to blacksmithing. Evening entertainment includes Southern Mountain Square Dance, jams and concerts.

For generations, fiddles and banjos have played a role in the music of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. In turn, musicians who are Cherokee, or of Cherokee descent, have helped shape the sound of bluegrass and old-time music.

Shaped note singing, a new form of sacred music, swept through the Blue Ridge Mountains at the dawn of the 19th century, using triangles, ovals and even half-moons to correspond to the notes of the familiar do-re-mi-fal-sol musical scale. In the mountains of North Carolina, shaped note singing still thrives in many communities. The Etowah singing, near Hendersonville, has been going on for more than a 100 years, and is held in May and September. In Canton, singers gather at the Morning Star Methodist Church on Old Folks Day, the second Sunday in September.

Brothers Jens and Uwe Krüger grew up in rural Switzerland, listening to records by North Carolina music legends Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs. They fell in love with the sound and mastered the music, playing with bassist Joel Landsberg. Now the Krugers make their home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, playing and touring and teaching younger students.

Pages