Ronnie Milsap – Nationally Known Artist
Ronnie Lee Milsap was born Jan. 16, 1943, in Robbinsville, N.C. A congenital disorder left him almost blind, and he was raised by his grandmother in the Smoky Mountains until the age of five, when he was sent to the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, N.C.
Showing an interest in music early on, at the age of seven his teachers recognized that he had considerable musical talent. He began studying classical music and learned several instruments, eventually mastering the piano.
His youthful passion for rock music led him to form a band with some high school classmates called The Apparitions. Briefly attending Young Harris College on a full scholarship, Milsap left before graduating to pursue a career in music.
In the early 1960s, Milsap played his first professional gigs as a member of J.J. Cale’s band. In 1965, he released “Total Disaster,” his first single as a solo artist, which achieved some local success in the Atlanta area.
In 1965, Milsap signed with New York-based Scepter Records where he scored an R&B Top 5 with the Ashford and Simpson-penned “Never Had It So Good.” While at Scepter, Milsap shared concert stages with James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, who encouraged the young man to apply himself to music.
In 1969 Milsap moved to Memphis to become a session musician. Working with the legendary Chips Moman, he played keyboards on Elvis Presley’s “Kentucky Rain” and can be heard singing background on “Don’t Cry Daddy.” When not doing session work, Milsap and his ensemble served as the house band at the local music hotspot T.J.’s Club.
In 1970, Milsap found success on the pop charts with “Loving You Is a Natural Thing.” He recorded and released his eponymous debut album – produced by Dan Penn -- in 1971.
In 1972, Milsap was performing at the Whiskey A-Go-Go where Charley Pride happened to be in the audience. Impressed with his soulful singing style, Pride encouraged Milsap to focus on Country Music. Moving to Nashville later that year, he began working with Pride’s manager, Jack D. Johnson. A year later, he signed with RCA Records and later that same year released his first Country single, the Top10 “I Hate You.”
In 1974 Milsap scored two No. 1s: “Pure Love” and “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends,” which won his first Grammy. Another No. 1 followed the next year with “Daydreams About Night Things.”
In 1976, Milsap established himself solidly as one of Country Music’s biggest stars. A string of seven No. 1 hits in a row, including “(I’m a) Stand By My Woman Man,” “What a Difference You’ve Made in My Life,” and “It Was Almost Like a Song,” which was the most successful single of the 1970s. “Song” was the singer’s first crossover hit, peaking No. 7 on the adult contemporary chart; it paved the way for Milsap to be named Billboard’s Artist of the Year (in any genre) in 1976.
This string of hits also kicked off a remarkable run in American pop music. With songs “(There’s) No Getting Over Me,” “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It For the World,” “Any Day Now,” “Stranger In My House,” “Lost in the Fifties Tonight,” “She Keeps the Home Fires Burning,” “Snap Your Fingers,” and “Where Do the Nights Go,” Milsap did not leave the Top 10 for 16 years.
Milsap also received myriad awards and accolades during this period. He won four CMA Album of the Year Awards (1975, 1977, 1978, and 1986), three CMA Male Vocalist of the Year trophies (1974, 1976, and 1977), and the coveted CMA Entertainer of the Year Award (1977). In addition he won five Grammys for Best Male Country Vocal performance (1975, 1977, 1982, 1986, and 1987) and one Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals in 1988 for the Kenny Rogers duet “Make No Mistake, She’s Mine.”
In 1993, Milsap left RCA and signed with Liberty Records and released the album True Believer. In 2000, he released the two-CD set, 40 No. 1 Hits.
In 2004, Milsap recorded Just For a Thrill, a collection of American popular/jazz standards, which was nominated for a Grammy. Returning to Country in 2006 at his original home of RCA Records, he releasied My Life. It was followed in 2009 with Then Sings My Soul, a two-CD set collection of hymns and gospel songs.
On March 18 of this year, Milsap released Summer #17, his 31st album, which he describes as an homage to the music that inspired him. Hailed by USA Today, The Tennessean and NPR: National Public Radio, the set paid homage to the influences that shaped Milsap’s singular brand of soul-steeped country.
With 40 No. 1 hits and more than 35 million albums sold, Milsap remains one of Country’ Music’s most successful and beloved crossover artists. At 71, he continues to tour the country, playing his music for multiple generations of music lovers.
Lulu Belle and Scotty Wiseman– Pioneer Artist
Scott Greene Wiseman was born November 8th, 1909 on a farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina. This area was a remote part of southern Appalachia. At the time, communications and roads were primitive. The living experience could be likened to living in colonial America before the Revolutionary War.
Scotty grew up with his family, working the farm and all the duties that came with that.
The first school Scotty attended was at the old Walnut Grove one-room school house about a mile up the valley.
Teachers were in short supply at this time. Many would turn down positions as soon as they saw the small one roomed school houses, packed with children. Some of these students were as old as the teachers.
Scotty’s father, Edward Wiseman, was a farmer and also a teacher. Edward Wiseman was a tall and burly man, who did not tolerate any mischief in his classroom. There were students that tried Mr. Wiseman’s patience and quickly were regretful, never to challenge him again.
Scotty attended a boarding school at Crossnore for his high school education. Here he studied English, history, Latin and agriculture but did poorly in math.
During his high school years, Scotty continued to practice his banjo and guitar playing, although his interest in music went as far back as his mother, teaching him to sing when he was just able to walk.
In 1927, Scotty graduated from Crossnore, as class president. Scotty went on to Duke University. Unfortunately, financial hardships caused Scotty to only be able to complete one year at Duke University.
A short time after this, Scotty was introduced to radio, a very small station WMMN, owned by Mr. Shad Rowe. The year was 1929 and radio was still in its infancy. It was at this time that Scotty coined his radio name as “Skyland Scotty” and the name immediately took to his listeners.
From WMMN, Scotty went on to station WLS-AM in Chicago, Illinois. WLS-AM’s National Barn Dance was a rival to WSM-AM’s Grand Ole Opry.
Here, Scotty met his love, Myrtle Eleanor Cooper. They married on December 13th, 1934 and were regular appearances on National Barn Dance on WLS-AM Chicago. They performed under the stage name “Lulu Belle and Scotty”, “Sweethearts of Country Music”.
Lulu Belle and Scotty were best known for their classic song “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?”. This became one of the first country songs to attract major attention in pop circles and was recorded by artists in both genres.
Lulu Belle and Scotty also ventured into featured motion pictures, such as Village Barn Dance(1940), Shine On, Harvest Moon(1938), County Fair(1941) and The National Barn Dance(1944).
Lulu Belle and Scotty had two children, Linda Lou Wiseman and Steve Wiseman. Both are deceased but both married and had children, who have families today.
The couple retired in 1958 and Scotty went on to earning a degree from Northwestern University, Master of Arts. Lulu Belle entered politics, and served two terms from 1975 to 1978 in the North Carolina House of Representatives as the Democratic Representative for three counties.
Scotty Wiseman was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971.
Scotty Wiseman passed away in 1981 in Florida, of a heart attack, on a return trip to North Carolina for the summer.Lulu Belle (Myrtle Eleanor Cooper) passed away on February 8th, 1999, of Alzheimer’s disease in Ingalls, North Carolina.
Terry Baucom– Sideman and Regional Musician
Terry Baucom, from Monroe, North Carolina, heard the sound of Earl Scruggs’ banjo on the Beverly Hillbillies television show and at the age of 10, found himself wanting to learn to play. His parents gave him a banjo that year for Christmas and he was soon performing locally and regionally with his father’s band, “The Rocky River Boys.” A few years later, he also started playing fiddle and got more experience from joining L.W. Lambert and The Blue River Boys, as well as, A.L. Wood and The Smokey Ridge Boys.
Baucom is known as “The Duke of Drive,” a reference to his ability to “drive” a song with his steady, hard-driving banjo style. His first professional job came in 1970 with Charlie Moore and the Dixie Partners. In 1976, he joined Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas and Wes Golding to form “Boone Creek”, a band based in Lexington, Kentucky.
In 1979, he was a founding member of Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver. He toured and recorded with the band for the first 6 years and later returned to “Quicksilver” from 2003-2007. Baucom was the original banjo player for IIIrd Tyme Out and appeared on their first two recordings on Rebel Records.
In 2011, he released his first solo project, “In A Groove,” on the John Boy & Billy Label. By 2013, his second solo project, “Never Thought of Looking Back,” was released. It featured the award winning song, “What’ll I Do”, which received the 2013 Recorded Event of the Year award from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA).
After working in Bluegrass Music as a sideman for more than 4 decades, in the Fall of 2013, he formed his own band, “Terry Baucom’s Dukes of Drive”.
The Lewis Family – Gospel
The Lewis Family, “America’s First Family of Bluegrass Gospel Music”, musical story began with the Lewis Brothers who played string band music for local area shows and square dances from 1947 to 1951. Made up of brothers Wallace, Esley and Talmadge, they were sometimes joined by Little Roy who was so small he played sitting on a chair. In 1951 the names was changed to The Lewis Family and the all-gospel format was adopted. Esley left early-on to take a job in private life and Pop and Miggie began with the group, followed by Polly, with Janis joining a short time later. Talmadge remained until leaving in 1972 to devote full time to his automotive and bus sales business in Augusta. Wallace’s son Travis started with the group in 1974 and Janis’ son Lewis Phillips started in 1977 with each becoming a mainstay of the group.
The early career of The Lewis Family involved years of traveling in cars with a base fiddle strapped to the top, often on dirt roads. The family acquired its first bus in 1960 and continued to traverse the interstate highways in its custom appointed motor coaches with most of the comforts of home, routinely covering 1,000 miles or more overnight between show dates when necessary. The Lewis Family has made personal appearances in all 48 contiguous states and throughout Canada as well as having played a number of ocean cruises.
From a modest but proud beginning in the members’ home town, Lincolnton, Georgia, the group continued for most of its career as it began; made up entirely of family members, a phenomenon in the entertainment field. Encompassing three generations, the show offered a broad appeal to all ages. Patriarch Roy “Pop” Lewis, born September 22, 1905, performed along with 5 of his children and two grandsons. “Mom” Lewis traveled with the family and looked after their product sales. Ill health forced Wallace to retire in 1995 and Pop in 2000. Working more than 200 dates each year, the enormous popularity of the group was evidenced by the fact that it received more repeat bookings than any other band on the bluegrass festival circuit, where most events are held annually or semi-annually. Other venues played each year included fairs, special events, and concerts in school auditoriums, civic centers and on college campuses. The Lewis Family made appearances at New York’s Lincoln Center, The Smithsonian and the Grand Ole Opry.
For 38 years, 1954 to 1992, The Lewis Family hosted its own weekly television show on WJBF-TV, Channel 6 in Augusta, Georgia. The telecast went into syndication for a time and held a national record for longevity when discontinued, a casualty of an increasingly heavy travel schedule. The group continued to videotape Christmas Specials for Channel 6 each year. Guest appearances on broadcast and cable network television were frequent and included video tapings on the ten-volume “Grassroots to Bluegrass” series and the popular Bill Gaither shows.
The Lewis Family has received numerous awards and accolades over their career. Induction of The Lewis Family into the prestigious Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1992 was a special highlight for the family members. The Lewis Family received its first of several coveted Dove Awards in 1999. In 2000, Pop Lewis was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Also, in 2000, each group member received the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion’s “Living Legend Award”. In 2003, The Lewis Family was honored by the dedication of The Lewis Family Pavilion in their hometown of Lincolnton, Georgia. The Lewis Family received the highest honor given in gospel music by begin inducted into GMA’s Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2005 and in 2006 received bluegrass music’s highest honor by being inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. In 2007, The Lewis Family members were recognized as lifetime members of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). Pop Lewis was honored posthumously in 2008 as the Georgia General Assembly adopted a resolution dedicating a portion of Highway 378 where the family lives in Lincoln County, Georgia as the James Roy “Pop” Lewis Memorial Highway.
The Lewis Family retired in 2009 after 58 years as “America’s First Family of Bluegrass Gospel Music”. Their final concert was at The Lewis Family Pavilion in Lincolnton, Georgia in October 2009. In March 2010 the Georgia State Senate adopted a resolution recognizing and commending The Lewis Family, a distinguished Georgia family, for its extraordinary accomplishment and commended the group members for the exemplary musical career in The Lewis Family. Now in 2015, it gives The Lewis Family great honor to be inducted into the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame.
Si Kahn – Songwriter
Si Kahn, born April 23, 1944, is an American singer-songwriter, activist, and founder and former executive director of Grassroots Leadership. Kahn grew up in State College, Pennsylvania. When he was 15, his family moved to the Washington, DC area, where he graduated from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. His grandfather Gabriel Kahn, his mother Rosalind Kahn, and his father Benjamin Kahn, a rabbi, instilled a strong sense of the family's Jewish heritage as well as teaching him the rudiments of rhythm and harmony as a child. His uncle, Arnold Aronson, executive secretary of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, helped inspire and shape Kahn's career. Kahn earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard University. In 1995 he completed a Ph.D. in American Studies from the Union Institute.
Kahn moved to the south as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement, and he now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. Kahn is the founder and former director of Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit organization that advocates for several causes, including prison reform, improved immigration detention policies, and violence prevention. He retired May 1, 2010. Most of the profits from Kahn's musical performances benefit this group. He has also been involved with Save Our Cumberland Mountains, an environmentalist group opposed to strip mining in Appalachia.
Though Kahn writes songs about a variety of topics, he is especially known for songs about workers and their families, like "Aragon Mill" (1974). He frequently writes songs, and occasionally performs, with singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist John McCutcheon. Kahn usually accompanies himself on a steel-string acoustic guitar, played with brass fingerpicks.
Bobby Patterson – Recording Industry
Bobby Patterson was born in Carroll County, Virginia, into a musical family. His mother, Ruby Bryant Patterson, and his father, John Patterson, were also from musical families. His older sister, Virginia, sang and played guitar. In fact Bobby was delivered by Doctor W.P. Davis, one of the original members of the Ballard Branch Bogtrotters Band that won first at the Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention in 1935. Bobby started playing the guitar at age 6 and attended his first live bluegrass show at the local Coleman School in 1948. The band was The Blue Ridge Mountain Boys who had just won 1st place at the Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention that year.
His first inspiration to recording came when he was ten years old. A next-door neighbor, Willard Sexton, bought a Wilcox-Gay reel to reel recorder and disc cutting machine. Mr. Sexton started recording Bobby’s family including, his grandfather and uncles, cutting 7 inch vinyl records which are still playable today. When his grandfather, Virgil Bryant, who played clawhammer banjo, passed away in 1958 and his beloved Uncle Tyra Cook, who played bluegrass banjo, passed away, he saw the need of preserving this type of mountain music that had been in people’s homes and only experienced by family and friends. He bought his first recorder around 1965 and the rest is history.
In 1969 with the help of his father and Kyle Creed, (who had moved into the community) he built his first recording studio on Coal Creek. He and Kyle became very close friends and Bobby describes Kyle as a 2nd father figure and together they started a studio and record label called Mountain Records. Visitors and musicians who came into the studio were from around the world. They were also known as Kyle Creed - Bobby Patterson and the Camp Creek Boys and was recorded by Leader Records in London, England on an album.
They recorded and produced several albums on the Mountain Label, one being the now famous old-time recording, “June Apple” with Tommy Jarrell, Kyle Creed, Bobby Patterson and Audine Lineberry. In 1974 Bobby decided to start his own record label “Heritage Records” and Kyle kept the Mountain Label and produced about 8 more albums on Mountain Records until his health began to fail and he sold the Mountain Label back to Bobby.
In 1976 Bobby recorded Wayne Henderson, Ray Cline and Herb Key’s first album which is considered by many to be the ultimate guitar album. Bobby has been producing recordings of the Galax Old Fiddler’s Conventions since 1974, including the 39th annual convention. He has been doing live recordings of the convention for 30 years. He is past governor (2006-2008) of Galax Moose Lodge #733, sponsors of the Old Fiddler’s Convention.
He joined the Highlanders Bluegrass Band in 1973, singing and playing mandolin. In 2009 after 38 years, The Highlanders quit traveling, but still get together occasionally for a show. He has produced over 200 albums during his 50 plus years of recording including 5 albums by the late Jim Shumate (one of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys and one of the original Foggy Mountain Boys and the one responsible for getting Earl Scruggs with bill Monroe). He also plays bluegrass and clawhammer banjo and has played on several other project recordings. He is president and founding member of The Blue Ridge Music Makers Guild, which provides an instrument lending library for children and adults who want to learn to play acoustic music. The Guild also provides an instrument petting zoo for kids at different festivals and county fairs.
On November 2007 he received the Life Time Achievement Award in Recognition of Outstanding Contributions Made to the Spiritual Heritage of the Blue Ridge and in July 2009 at the Richmond Virginia Folk Festival, received the Virginia Heritage Award for Preservation of Traditional Music. The Appalachian Cultural Music Association presented him with the Bluegrass Award in 2014. He has been a member of several gospel groups and is now with a gospel quartet called Heritage IV.
During the summer from May thru October you can find him and his long time music partner, Willard Gayheart, performing on Tuesdays at the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Keith Watts, Recipient
Dr. T.R. Bryan, Jr. Wilkes Heritage Music Award
The first stringed instrument Keith Watts ever touched was a ukulele his folks gave him for Christmas at the age of 8, and he still has the ukulele. His parents noticed every time a guitar player was on TV, Keith would be glued to the set. One day around 1970, his father brought home a Silvertone electric guitar that he bought from a young musician leaving for Viet Nam. It was for sale because the young man said he would probably never come home. Mr. Watts said he knew a young fellow that would play it for him while he was away.
Keith would get together with cousins to learn to read music, identify notes on the fret board, and make chords. A friend, Tom Goins taught him a lot of “musical things”. Watts loved Johnny Cash, so Tom showed him techniques like how to muffle the strings with the heel of his hand to get Luther Perkins’ bassy thump. I learned how to “walk the bass strings” on I Walk the Line. The old Silvertone was traded for a Gibson ES120; Dad surprised him again!
In his St. Stephens High School years, Keith and his friend Michael Fox formed a band – or one could say they played music every chance they possibly could. Social Studies and English teachers would have them perform folk and heritage music in class. A little later, teachers would come sign them out of class to play for other classes – the catch was that they were expected to convey facts about the history and cultural aspects of their music. This led them to study the musical heritage of many genres.
Michael Fox introduced Watts to an “ole timer” Jacob Hart. Jake was a story teller, luthier, a left handed fiddle player, and just a down to earth ole troubadour. Keith gives ole Jake credit for truly sparking his interest in old time folk music and ways of the Appalachian area.
If you ask Watts to write down his musical influences, there would be pages. The one true singer-songwriter-actor at the top of the list would be Kris Kristofferson. The Beatles, Credence Clearwater, Allman Brothers, rock-lord Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin, Leslie West, but the list goes much deeper. Throw in Charlie Poole, Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family, Skillet Lickers, Riley Puckett, Doc Watson, Gram Parsons, James Taylor, and Emmylou Harris and you have a good start. All these folks do music and music is our universal language.
Watts met Dudley Culp, founder of the Green Grass Cloggers in 1977, began attending Dudley’s folk-dance workshops and fell in love with traditional dance and the music. Watts and several friends formed Uncle Waldoes Free Lunch Old Time String Band from 1977 until 1984 to play at just such dances. He played with Possum Hollar Ole Time String Band (formed by Michael Fox) from 1975 and still plays with them today.
In 1985, Watts left Hickory, NC and moved to Wilkesboro, NC and married his wife Debbie. Watts is a graduate of Catawba Valley Technical (Community) College in Hickory, NC and Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, NC. He has been an instructor at Wilkes Community College since 1999.
In 2000, Watts along with the late Dr. Steven Duncan founded Wilkes Acoustic Folk Society Inc., a 501(c) 3 not for profit organization. WAFS continues today with monthly meetings and major fundraisers to support music scholarships for deserving youths in Wilkes and surrounding foothills of NC. In 2002, Watts and the Folk Society were honored with North Carolina’s Outstanding Volunteer award. Since 2004, eighteen scholarships have been awarded to The Swannanoa Gathering in Asheville, NC and Pete Wernick’s MerleFest Jam Camp at YMCA Camp Harrison in Wilkes County. Each year Watts schedules and coordinates musician volunteers for the MerleFest Pickin’ Place for the entire week of MerleFest. The Pickin’ Place is a venue of its own for all music lovers to visit during MerleFest. Watts is quick to point out that one does not have to play an instrument to be a music lover!
Throughout all these years and all his love for music, this little known amateur musician has enjoyed the pickin’ in churches, retirement homes, “laundry-matts”, libraries, streets, sidewalks, weddings, Civil War skits, funerals, anniversaries, Mint-Museum teas, book excerpt readings, radio program, fiddlers conventions, and festivals just about everywhere in the mountains of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee for the pure-tee fun of it. He has judged musical competitions and even built instruments. Watts has cut several CD’s and was part of the award winning Tom Dooley; A Wilkes County Legend soundtrack.Watts says, “The best and most important musical influences have been my friends and the sharing that takes place in informal jam sessions. There is nothing or any artist that can take the place of my wife and my musical friends. They are forever in my heart.”