down the road

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.

David Holt and Doc Watson performing
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Arthel Lane Watson, better known as "Doc," grew up on Osborne Mountain in Watauga County, NC. Doc lost his sight to an eye infection before the age of one but he would grow up to become the most celebrated Appalachian musician ever. Doc talked about his childhood in an interview with David Holt, included on the 2001 Legacy box set.

Man standing and playing banjo while singing
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Clarence “Tom” Ashley, a banjo player and guitarist from Mountain City, Tennessee, got his start in the medicine show circuit in the late 20s and 30s, but was “rediscovered”  in the Folk Revival of the 1960s. Ashley’s  famous solo recordings are probably “Dark Holler Blues” and its flip-side, “The Coo-Coo Bird,” both eerie clawhammer banjo performances recorded in late October of 1929.

Man's face
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Ray Hicks grew up on a hardscrabble mountain farm on Beech Mountain. From his grandfather, young Hicks learned a dozen Jack tales, part of the rich storytelling tradition of the Appalachians. Standing nearly seven feet tall and illustrating his stories with animated expressions and gestures, Hicks was naturally engaging teller of tales. Alan Lomax once called him “the greatest of all American folktale tellers.” Ray Hicks received the National Heritage Award in 1983.

Frank Proffitt playing guitar while sitting outside
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In 1938, Frank Proffitt of Beech Mountain recorded the song “Tom Dooley.” The murder ballad tells the true-life tale of a Civil War love triangle that ended in the death of a young Wilkes County, N.C., woman named Laura Foster, and the hanging of Tom Dula for her murder. Twenty years later, the Kingston Trio recorded their own version, helping launch the Folk Revival of the 1960s. The album sold more than 3 million copies.

Man holding banjo
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One of the pioneers of country music, Charlie Poole was born in 1892 in Franklinville, a small town in Randolph County, NC. He played the banjo from an early age, and developed a distinctive three-finger style to compensate for a baseball injury. Poole was famous for his rough and rowdy ways, and you can hear the voice of experience when he sings songs of drinking and rambling. With his band the North Carolina Ramblers he made dozens of records between 1925 and 1930, mostly for Columbia Records.

Two men playing instruments and smiling
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Surry County’s Round Peak area, and the surrounding communities between Mount Airy, N.C., and Galax, Va., have shaped the sound of Old-Time music heard across the nation and around the world.  Two of the best-known members of this tradition were Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham.

Down the Road - Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina logo
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Throughout this series, we’ve invited you to journey down the road with us on the highways and byways that make up the Blue Ridge Music Trails. But just what and where are these roads that we’re traveling?

Two men playing instruments and smiling
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In the Blue Ridge, the Christmas season was celebrated for days on end, with gatherings of family and friends, good food, and lots of music. This was especially true in the area known as Round Peak, around Mount Airy, North Carolina, and Galax, Virginia. The tradition was called Breaking up Christmas, and December 25th was just the beginning.

Woman singing from book
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In 1821, Sequoyah singlehandedly created a syllabary, or writing system, for his people, the Cherokee Indians. Within a few years, the tribe’s literacy rate was far higher than their white neighbors. First published in 1829, the Cherokee Hymnbook contained the lyrics to sacred songs, written in Cherokee, using Sequoyah’s syllabary. It was a groundbreaking achievement, created for an audience who could both read the Cherokee language and sing by heart the tunes that went with the lyrics.

Children playing instruments
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In 2000, Helen White, a school guidance counselor, founded a music program in the Alleghany County, N.C, schools.  She called it Junior Appalachian Musicians—or JAM. The program offered instruction in the traditional music of the mountains. To say that JAM has been a success would be almost as big an understatement as saying that Bill Monroe had something to do with bluegrass.

A group of people singing
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North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains are home to a rich heritage of African-American gospel music in local churches, performed by singers and instrumental musicians who may be professionals, or who may simply love to lift their voices in Sunday worship. One such place is Texana, a historic African-American community in Cherokee County in the state’s southwestern-most corner. Texana has a longstanding gospel music tradition, associated especially with Mount Zion Baptist Church.

Man and woman dancing
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Haywood County in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains is the heartland of a homegrown dance tradition—team square dancing, and its close relative, team clogging. Sam Love Queen, born in 1889 is often credited with being the founding father of this tradition. His Soco Gap Dancers performed for President Roosevelt and the Queen of England in 1939.

Young boy playing guitar
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The millennial generation has brought new energy and talent to mountain music. Young stars of bluegrass and old-time music such as Josh Goforth, Emma McDowell, and Bryan McDowell are doing their native North Carolina proud. And the generation younger than the millennials — Generation Z —is showing every bit as much promise to carry Blue Ridge musical traditions into the future. Among them are fiddlers Lillian Chase and Rhiannon Ramsey and flatpicking guitarist Presley Barker.

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