Nationally Known Artist: Tony Rice
Tony Rice Born David Anthony Rice in 1951 in Danville, Va., Tony Rice moved to California as a child with his parents and brother, Larry. Their father, Herb, played mandolin and helped to start the band, the Golden State Boys.
Herb Rice gave Tony his first guitar. Tony sang on the radio at age 9. By age 11, he played in a band with Larry on mandolin.
The family moved from California to Florida, then to other Southern states. Tony began playing with other bands, leading him at age 20 to banjoist J.D. Crowe and the New South.
Over the next few decades, he performed with a string of bands. He started the Tony Rice Unit in 1979.
At the 2013 International Bluegrass Music Awards, Rowan called several of Rice’s albums “ legendary in their execution and legacy,” among them “Manzanita,” “Roses in the Snow,” “Scaggs and Rice,” “Still Inside” and “Church Street Blues.”
The New South’s recording of “Fireball” won a 1983 Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance. Rice has won several awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association, including Instrumental Performer of the Year on guitar six times.
He played with groups that included J.D. Crowe and the New South, the David Grisman Quintet, the Bluegrass Album Band and his own group, the Tony Rice Unit. He performed with his brothers Wyatt, Ronnie and his oldest brother, Larry, now deceased.
He recorded his own songs and those of others. His discography in the 2010 biography, “Still Inside: The Tony Rice Story,” lists 283 recordings, seven videos and performances on three movie soundtracks: “Preacherman” in 1971, “Eat My Dust” in 1976 and “King of the Gypsies” in 1978. He last recorded in 1999, a cover of Tom Waits’ “Pony.”
Occasionally, he still picks up the guitar he calls the “Antique.” Once owned by Clarence White of the Kentucky Colonels and The Byrds, Rice tracked it down in 1975, a few years after White was killed by a drunken driver, and bought it for $550.
Rice said he aims to return to performing, but he isn’t sure when.
“But I am not going to go back out into the public eye until I can be the musician that I was, where I left off or better,” Rice said. “I have been blessed with a very devout audience all these years, and I am certainly not going to let anybody down. I am not going to risk going out there and performing in front of people again until I can entertain them in a way that takes away from them the rigors and the dust, the bumps in the road of everyday life.”
Sideman and Regional Musician: Bryan Sutton
Bryan Sutton is the most accomplished and awarded acoustic guitarist of his generation, an innovator who bridges the bluegrass flatpicking traditions of the 20th century with the dynamic roots music scene of the 21st.
His rise from buzzed-about young sideman to first-call Nashville session musician to membership in one of history’s greatest bluegrass bands has been grounded in quiet professionalism and ever-expanding musicianship.
Sutton is a Grammy Award winner and a nine-time International Bluegrass Music Association Guitar Player of the Year. But these are only the most visible signs of Sutton’s accomplishments. He inherited and internalized a technically demanding instrumental style and become for young musicians of today the same kind of model and hero that Tony Rice and Clarence White were for him. And supplementing his instrumental work, he ‘snow a band leader, record producer, mentor, educator and leader in online music instruction.
Sutton was born in 1973 in Asheville, NC, an area rich in bluegrass and mountain music that he’s called an ideal environment to develop as a musician. His grandfather and father played together in a band, modeling a life in music for Bryan, who picked up the guitar at age eight. He participated in community and family jams and was encouraged but never pressured to practice. He just did. His self-motivation helped him get familiar with a range of styles, and he studied some jazz guitar in North Carolina. His plans to attend the Berklee College of Music were however set aside by invitations to record as a sideman.
Sutton relocated to Nashville in 1994 to play sessions and over a year and a half built his resume and relationships. Then a studio-born friendship with bass player Mark Fain led to the job that would thrust him to prominence – playing guitar for star artist and musician Ricky Skaggs just as he reconfigured his band and his musical orientation from country to bluegrass. Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder was one of the very top bands of the 1990s resurgence of bluegrass music, and even in a large, loud band with three guitarists, Sutton’s punctuated, dynamic and whip-fast lead playing stood out. He was called a phenomenon and a virtuoso and the future of bluegrass guitar, something Sutton took inquiet stride.
After about three years with Skaggs, Sutton started a family and refocused on Nashville’s studios, where he rather quickly became the most called-upon acoustic guitarist in town. Today his discography reads like a roll call of Nashville’s last two decades, with credits on albums by Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton, Eric Church, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood and many more. Major commercial country sessions can leave a virtuoso in the background, but Sutton was also called on to play a prominent role in some of the most significant recording projects in modern day bluegrass and acoustic music, including Dolly Parton’s Grammy winning The Grass Is Blue, Dierks Bentley’s Up On The Ridge, Charlie Haden’s Rambling Boy and The Dixie Chicks’ groundbreaking Home album. During these years, he also supported numerous recordings by leading traditional and Americana artists, including The Chieftains, Patty Loveless, Rhonda Vincent, Mindy Smith, Jim Lauderdale, Adam Steffey and Dailey & Vincent.
Sutton took selective advantage of invitations to play live in the 2000s, the most meaningful being a tour supporting banjo player Béla Fleck’s Tales From The Acoustic Planet album. It was a last minute call to replace injured Tony Rice - a chance to perform with the most elite group of progressive bluegrass musicians in the world, instrumentalists whom Sutton had idolized for years: mandolinist Sam Bush, dobro player Jerry Douglas and fiddler Stuart Duncan. That group has solidified over the years into a glorified “house band” and arguably the biggest annual draw at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
Starting just before 2000, Sutton kicked off his career as a solo recording artist, assembling a star-studded band for his debut Ready To Go on Sugar Hill Records. Besides some original bluegrass instrumentals and some guest vocal tunes by the likes of Rhonda Vincent, the album featured two hot swing numbers, some lyrical pieces and even a U2 cover, showing sides of his playing and personality that were in the background during his tenure with Ricky Skaggs. On his second solo disc, Sutton turned back to his upbringing and his heart’s core for Bluegrass Guitar, featuring nine traditional standards, one original and an instrumental take on a Tim O’Brien song. Here, Sutton’s debts to his idols – Rice, Watson, White - were clear, but his own voice and style was fully realized. And then in 2006, he took his admiration for his fellow pickers to its logical conclusion, arranging duo sessions with favorites and friends for Not Too Far From The Tree. He was joined on a range of styles and tunes by David Grier, Norman Blake, Ricky Skaggs, Tony Rice, Earl Scruggs, Dan Crary and Doc Watson. The latter’s track, a take on the venerable “Whiskey Before Breakfast,” won the Grammy Award of 2007 for Best Country Instrumental Performance. Every bluegrass guitarist reveres Doc Watson, but for Sutton, their shared North Carolina roots made the validation that much deeper. Even coming amid a string of nine IBMA awards, this was a career highlight that cemented Sutton’s name next to Doc’s, and in his field there’s no higher honor.
The most recent major chapter of Sutton’s career had its seeds planted more than a decade ago when a call came from banjo star Peter Wernick. The legendary Colorado bluegrass band Hot Rize was taking on infrequent reunion shows. Wernick, Tim O’Brien and Nick Forster asked Sutton to fill the guitar chair of the late Charles Sawtelle. Then about 2012 they decided to release a new album, tour harder and make Sutton a formal member of the group. In 2015 Hot Rize was nominated for two IBMA Awards including album and entertainers of the year. Fans from coast to coast and especially Colorado were thrilled to have this favorite 1980s era band back with the best guitarist in the business tossing out well wrought solos, as well as playing the deadpan role of Slade in Hot Rize’s alter ego band, Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers.
In recent years, Sutton has broadened his musical and professional reach. He has at last formed his own Bryan Sutton Band with wider ambitions to tour and record albums with live performance more centrally in mind.
He’s produced several artists, notably the upstart all female bluegrass band from Boston Della Mae. And he’s become the guitar instructor at the innovative ArtistWorks.com video exchange learning site. Here Sutton is not only recording lessons for one-way instruction; he receives and critiques videos from students, engaging them individually from hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Accepting his most recent IBMA Award in 2015, Sutton focused his speech not on the people who’d helped him along the way (he’d done so amply in prior years) but rather on alerting the audience to a dozen or more young and emerging bluegrass guitar players who were worthy of attention. It was a gesture of magnanimity and humility that only bolstered the central role Sutton has secured in the history of the bluegrass guitar.
Luthier: Herb Key
Herbert (Herb) Milton Key was born October 25, 1936 in Wilkes County, NC in a little community around Cub Creek Church.
Those that grew up during this period know just how hard times were during World War II. Many fathers, like mine, were away fighting for our freedom. But there were happy times too. I shall never forget how mother stepped up and made life for my brothers and me as happy as possible. Mother could strum the guitar and sing old ballads for us. Two in particular that I can remember were “Barbara Allen” and the “Wildwood Flower”. Those tunes and a small wooden encased radio actually started my long dedication to music and musical instruments. Later I learned to play on my mother’s guitar even though it was awfully hard to note. Her guitar still hangs on my wall today. It was about that time when my grandmother’s old windup Victrola 78 record player came into the picture. Grandmother wouldn’t let me wind up the old Victrola but she would sit me in the floor while she played those old records for me. One that she played over and over was the “Wildwood Flower” by the Carter Family. Mother Maybelle’s lead picking just “blew me away”. It took a while but I finally learned to play it.
There wasn’t a whole lot of free time back then and there were many chores to be done like dragging limbs in from the woods which provided a lot of our heat and fuel for our wood cook stove. When an axe handle broke or something “tore up” our solution was to fix it. This mind set allowed me to work on musical instruments a little later on.
My dad was a carpenter and he built the house I was born in and where my younger brother still lives. He remodeled it over the years and I helped him do a lot of that. Actually that’s where I got my start in woodworking.
I presently work one day a week in Wayne Henderson’s Guitar Shop in Rugby, VA repairing and restoring mostly older instruments. The rest of time, I am repairing and restoring instruments in my shop at home in Wilkesboro, NC.
I have spent around fifty years making, repairing and restoring musical instruments and have played music most of my life.
Pioneer Artist: Bascom Lamar Lunsford
Bascom Lamar Lunsford was born on the campus of Mars Hill College, in Madison County, in 1882.
He was born in a time that gave him a grasp of nineteenth-century history and culture, and he grew to understand the great changes that were coming in the new century. His first music collecting trips were on horseback. By 1949, he was flying to Venice, Italy to represent the United States of America at the International Folk Festival. What is more, he grew up in a community that was rich in folk music and culture and in a family that shared in this appreciation. His mother sang many of the old ballads and his uncle was a fine old time fiddler.
Bascom was educated in local one room schools and at Camp Academy in Leicester, NC. After a year at Rutherford College he took a teaching job near Dogget’s Gap in Madison County. After teaching for only one year, he decided to try his hand as a fruit tree salesman. He later went into the honey business--promoting beekeeping and gathering nectar and comb for the market. These jobs gave him the opportunity to visit a plethora of homes over a wide area and to stay with customers, many of whom turned out to be musicians and singers. During these years, he added many tunes and songs to his repertoire.
In 1906 he married Nellie Triplett, his childhood sweetheart from Leicester. Bascom re-enrolled at Rutherford College and after graduating in 1909, he became a teacher in McDowell County. In 1910 he was the supervisor of boys at the state school for the deaf in Morganton, NC. He began studying law at this time and enrolled in the law program at Trinity College, which later became Duke University. He passed the Bar exam and was licensed in 1913.
He became the solicitor for Burke County. Shortly thereafter, he was invited to teach English and History at Rutherford College. There he gave his first formal concert, a lecture and performance on North Carolina Folklore, poetry and songs. Appearing in a finely-pressed suit, white tie, tails, and banjo in-hand, his appearance demonstrated the worth and dignity he saw in mountain music. This was the harbinger of his lifelong battle against insulting stereotypes of mountain society and culture.
After 2 years of college teaching he tried auctioneering and newspaper publishing. During WWI, he became a special agent for the U. S. Justice Department stationed in N.Y. City. After the war he returned to NC and started a newspaper, the McDowell Sentinel, where he became involved in supporting local politicians. All the while, he continued to collect and perform his beloved mountain music.
In 1924 he was sought out by Polk Brockman of Atlanta, who worked for the General Phonograph Company, and made his first 2 commercial recordings: “Jesse James” and “I Wish I Was a Mole in The Ground”.
In 1925 he was enlisted by Ralph Peer of OKEH Records to seek out talent for a commercial recording session in Asheville, a full 2 years before Peer’s session in Bristol, TN. He and his brother, Blackwell, recorded 2 sides which were released commercially. That same year Nellie inherited part of her family’s farm on South Turkey Creek, near Leicester, in Buncombe County and there they moved the family, now six daughters and a son. They lived in a modest home and set up a farming operation run mostly by Nellie. Bascom established a law office in Asheville but his letterhead emphasized that he was a “lecturer, musician, radio artist, folklorist, writer, and record artist.” The law was to get a short shrift.
At first he collected music solely because he loved the lore and wanted to build his own performing repertory. But after a while, with encouragement from folklorists such as Frank C. Brown of Duke University and Robert Winslow Gordon, a writer and collector who would later found the Archive of Folk Song at the Library of Congress, Lunsford came to see himself more as a scholar and preserver of traditional materials that he feared would be lost.
In 1928 he founded what would become the oldest continually running Folk festival in the U. S., the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, still held the first weekend in August in Asheville.
He went on to organize many similar festivals in Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Cherokee, Greensboro and other cities in NC, as well as Renfro Valley, KY, Cincinnati, OH, and Richmond, VA. His Asheville festival inspired Sarah Gertrude Knott to found the National Folk Festival. He was on the board and was a key organizer of the first National Festival in St Louis, MO in 1934 to which he brought 70 performers from NC. He served on the board and was an active promoter and supplier of Western North Carolina musical talent for many years.
In 1929 Lunsford collaborated with classical musician, and WNC native, Lamar Stringfield, to publish 31 Folk Songs from the Southern Mountains (New York: Carl Fischer). From 1924 to 1935, 22 of Lunsford’s items were released commercially on Okeh, Brunswick, Vocalion, and Columbia labels. In 1953 Folkways released an LP Smoky Mountain Ballads, followed in 1956 by another LP, Minstrel of the Appalachians on Riverside. In 1956 Bascom, Red Parham and George Pegram were recorded by Kenneth Goldstein and the material was eventually issued as Music from South Turkey Creek by Rounder Records (Rounder 0065).
Bascom’s non-commercial recordings were extensive. Frank C. Brown was the first to record him, with 32 items on wax cylinders, in 1922. In 1925 Robert W. Gordon recorded him and others on some 39 cylinders. In 1935 at the suggestion of Dorothy Scarborough, George Hibbit and other members of Columbia University’s English Department invited Lunsford to record over 300 items of his “memory collection” on aluminum discs. Fourteen years later, in 1949, his “memory collection” as recorded for the Library of Congress contained about 350 items. It was to be the largest ever recorded for the Archive, according to Duncan Emrich. Other recordings were deposited in the Archive of Folk Culture by Sidney Robertson Cowell, Alan Lomax, Jerome Weisner, Artus Moser, and Benjamin Botkin among others.
While there were many highlights in Bascom’s musical career, there is one in particular he treasured most. In 1939, he performed at the White House for President Franklin and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and the King and Queen of England.Bascom Lamar Lunsford, known as “The Minstrel of the Appalachians”, enjoyed performing and was quite accomplished. His true calling and lifelong mission, however, was to preserve and promote our mountain music, dance, and culture. He was a champion in convincing the outside world of the true worth and value of our culture and a pioneer in providing a platform for it to be enjoyed by a wider audience. He gave Pete Seeger his first banjo lesson, he performed before 10,000 at Madison Square Garden, he wrote the standard “Good Old Mountain Dew”, his music influenced Bob Dylan and Robert Plant but it was his mountain culture that he chose to treasu
Promoter, Organizer & Special Contributor: Alice Gerrard
Alice Gerrard has known, learned and performed with many old-time and bluegrass artists earning worldwide respect for her own contributions to the music world. She is particularly known for her groundbreaking collaboration with Appalachian singer Hazel Dickens during the 1960s and 70s. The duo produced four classic LPs that have been reissued by Rounder and influenced artists such as The Judds.
Billboard, Bluegrass Unlimited and New Country released Alice’s first solo album “Pieces of My Heart”, on Copper Creek in 1995 to critical acclaim. Her compelling eclectic songwriting, powerful, hard-edged vocals and instrumental mastery of rhythm guitar and banjo are highlighted powerfully.
Alice has appeared on more than twenty recordings of other artists including projects by Tommy Jarrell, Enoch Rutherford, Otis Burris and Matokie Slaughter. She has produced or written liner notes for a dozen more and co-produced and appeared in two documentary films.
A tireless advocate of traditional music, Alice has won many awards and honors. In 1987, she founded the Old Time Music Group, a non-profit organization that oversees publication of the Old Time Herald. Alice served as editor-in-chief of The Old Time Herald from 1987 until 2003.
Media and Scholar: Alan Lomax
Musicologist, writer, and producer Alan Lomax (b. Austin, Texas, 1915) spent over six decades working to promote knowledge and appreciation of the world’s folk music. He began his career in 1933 alongside his father, the pioneering folklorist John Avery Lomax, author of the best-selling Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads (1910). In 1934, the two launched an effort to expand the holdings of recorded folk music at the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress (established 1928), gathering thousands of field recordings of folk musicians throughout the American South, Southwest, Midwest, and Northeast, as well as in Haiti and the Bahamas. Their collecting resulted in several popular and influential anthologies of American folk songs, including American Ballads and Folk Songs (New York: Macmillan, 1934); Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly(New York: Macmillan, 1936), the first in depth biographical study of an American folk musician; Our Singing Country (with Ruth Crawford Seeger) (New York: Macmillian, 1941); andFolk Song USA (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pierce 1947).
After completing a philosophy degree at the University of Texas in 1936, Lomax conducted field research in Haiti with his wife, Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold. The next year, Lomax was appointed Assistant in Charge of the Archive of American Folk Song. In 1939, while doing graduate work in anthropology at Columbia University, he produced the first of several radio series for CBS. American Folk Songs, Wellsprings of Music, and the prime-time series, Back Where I Come From, exposed national audiences to regional American music and such homegrown talents as Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Aunt Molly Jackson, Josh White, the Golden Gate Quartet, Burl Ives, and Pete Seeger. Lomax also built on the interest created by his books, records, and broadcasts with concert series such as The Midnight Special at Town Hall, which brought 1940s New Yorkers blues, flamenco, calypso, and Southern ballad singing, all still relatively unknown genres. “The main point of my activity,” Lomax once remarked, “was... to put sound technology at the disposal of The Folk, to bring channels of communication to all sorts of artists and areas.”
His experience interviewing Lead Belly encouraged Lomax to further explore the genre of oral biography. His conversations with Jelly Roll Morton, recorded in 1938 in the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress, formed the basis for Mister Jelly Roll: The Fortunes of Jelly Roll Morton, New Orleans Creole and “Inventor of Jazz” (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1949) , a remarkable account closely following Morton’s narrative that is essential for anyone wishing to understand the history of jazz (and which has inspired two Broadway musicals). Lomax’s oral historical portrait of “Nora” in The Rainbow Sign (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1959) was based on the extensive interviews and recordings of Alabama folk singer Vera Hall he made in the late forties. Blues in the Mississippi Night (1947), an album of music and candid discussion by Memphis Slim, Big Bill Broonzy, and Sonny Boy Williamson, remains a classic recorded document of African-American social and musical history (it was reissued by Rounder Records in 2002). “Every time I took one of those big, black, glass-based platters out of its box,” Lomax wrote of the recording process, “I felt that a magical moment was opening up in time…. For me, the black discs spinning in the Mississippi night, spitting the chip centripetally toward the center of the table ... heralded a new age of writing human history.”
A joint field trip conducted by the Library of Congress and Fisk University in 1941 and 1942, and described in Lomax’s 1993 memoir, The Land Where the Blues Began, took him even deeper into the musical and cultural world of the African American South. In the hill country of Mississippi, he documented styles of fife-and-drum and quills (panpipes) music, ground-hugging dance, and hocketing song that had kept remarkably close to their African roots. In the Delta he interviewed and made the first recordings of 29-year-old singer and guitarist McKinley Morganfield, later known as Muddy Waters. In 1947, for the fifth time, Lomax returned to Mississippi with the first portable tape recorder to make high-fidelity recordings of Delta church services and of the prisoners’ work songs at Parchman Farm (the notorious state penitentiary), which he ranked among the world’s great music.
In the 1950s, Lomax compiled and edited an 18-volume LP series for Columbia Records anthologizing world folk music (a project which anticipated a similar UNESCO world music series by several years). His collecting and his collaborations for this project — with Diego Carpitella in Italy, Seamus Ennis in Ireland, Peter Kennedy in England, and Hamish Henderson in Scotland — laid the foundations for folk song revivals in those countries. Lomax, Kennedy, and their colleagues introduced scores of listeners to British and world folk music through BBC radio and television.
Returning to the United States in 1958, Lomax set out on two more long field trips through the American South. His stereo Southern Journey recordings resulted in nineteen albums issued on the Atlantic and Prestige International labels in the early 1960s. In 1962 he made an extensive survey of traditional music in the Eastern Caribbean, also in stereo, under the auspices of the University of the West Indies. Together with his Haitian and Bahamian recordings of the 1930s, and recordings made in Santo Domingo in 1967, Lomax’s Caribbean corpus amounts to some 150 hours of music, interviews, and konts (story-songs).
During this period he also published the groundbreaking anthologyFolk Songs of North America (New York: Doubleday, 1960), which signaled his growing interest in the relationship of folk song style and culture. This deepening preoccupation grew into a massive program of research into expressive behavior running from 1961 through 1995, housed first at Columbia University and later at Hunter College. Lomax and colleagues — including musicologist Victor Grauer, anthropologist Conrad Arensberg of Columbia University, Irmgard Bartenieff and Forrestine Paulay of the Laban Dance Notation Bureau — developed Cantometrics, Choreometrics, and Parlametrics, methodologies for the comparative analysis of song, dance, and speech. The initial results were published in Folk Song Style and Culture(Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Publication No. 88, 1968; reprinted by Transaction Books, New Brunswick, NJ).
Throughout the seventies and eighties, Lomax published journal articles and teaching materials and films based on his work on expressive style. Cantometrics: An Approach to the Anthropology of Music, first published in 1976, represented a new and democratic approach to the study of world music. Three teaching films, Dance and Human History, Step Style,and Palm Play, produced in the 1970s, introduced students to Choreometrics. The Longest Trail (1986) combined historical data and Choreometric movement analysis to point out cultural continuities between Siberian peoples and Native North and South Americans.
As consultant to Carl Sagan for the audio collection accompanying the 1977 Voyager space probe, Lomax saw to it that the world’s music was carried to the stars with the blues and jazz of Blind Willie Johnson and Louis Armstrong; Andean panpipes and Navajo chants; a Sicilian sulfur miner’s lament; polyphonic vocal music from the Mbuti of Zaire and Georgians of the Caucasus, in addition to Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, and more.
While in his sixties, Lomax embarked on a final series of field trips to the American South and Southwest, this time with a film crew and script ideas for exploring several fertile regional and ethnic American musical cultures. This resulted in American Patchwork, a prize-winning five-hour television series, which aired on PBS in 1990. Also in 1990,Blues in the Mississippi Night was reissued on Rykodisc, and Sounds of the South, a four-CD set of Lomax’s 1959 Southern recordings, was reissued by Atlantic Records in 1993. The Alan Lomax Collection (1997–2007), a CD series anthologizing Lomax’s six-decade recording career, numbers over a hundred volumes.
In 1989, Lomax and a team of developers began compiling his most ambitious project, the Global Jukebox, a multimedia interactive database that looks at relationships between dance, song, and social organization. It was originally inspired by the Urban Strain, a 1980s study of twentieth-century popular music undertaken with jazz musician Roswell Rudd and dance ethnologist Forrestine Paulay. Lomax intended the Jukebox to serve both as a medium for scientific research into human expressive behavior and as a tool for social science, arts, and humanities education. With it, Lomax hoped to further the concept of cultural equity, which Lomax understood as the importance of giving all cultures a valid forum in the media and in educational curricula for the meaningful display of their arts and values.
Alan Lomax received the National Medal of Arts from President Reagan in 1984; the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for Nonfiction for The Land Where the Blues Began (1993); the Folk Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award (1995); an Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy from Tulane University (2001); and a posthumous Grammy Trustees’ Award in 2003. In 2000 he was made a Library of Congress Living Legend. He retired in 1996 to live in Florida with his daughter and grandson, and died there on July 19, 2002.
 Alan Lomax, “Saga of a Folksong Hunter,” HiFi/Stereo Review, 4: 5 (May 1960): 38.
 Alan Lomax, The Land Where the Blues Began (New York: Pantheon, 1993), p. xi.
Master Musician and Tradition Bearer: Ralph Blizzard
Ralph Blizard Born in 1918 in Kingsport, Tennessee, Ralph grew up in the musically rich Tennessee/Virginia border area, surrounded by fiddle music and old-time singing. His father played the fiddle and taught singing schools. He took Ralph with him to jam sessions and musical gatherings at the homes of local musicians, including the Carter Family, Charlie Bowman, Dudley Vance, and John Dykes. By the time he was 14 years old, Ralph was fiddling. He formed his first band, the Southern Ramblers, in 1932 and began playing on local radio stations. During the early to mid-1930s, old-time music enjoyed regional and national popularity, and Ralph Blizard and the Southern Ramblers were in the thick of it, playing radio shows almost daily before attending school and traveling on the weekends to play for square dances, concerts, and other bookings.
After putting down his fiddle to start a family for 25 years Ralph had to retrain himself through long dedicated practice hours to play again. Upon deciding he could once again play the way he had years earlier he met and started a band with Phil Jamison, Gordy Hinners, and Andy Deaver. For the next 20 years, Ralph and his band, which eventually included John Lilly and John Herrmann, redefined old-time music. With a repertoire incorporating traditional dance tunes; early country songs from the Delmore Brothers, Jimmie Rodgers, and Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith; and original compositions, the New Southern Ramblers drove their music in a way few people had ever heard.
Ralph’s “Appalachian Mountain Longbow” fiddling stretched the bounds of traditional melody, stringing together soaring streams of notes with one stroke of the bow, creating music that seemed to come from deep within. He never played a tune the same way once, his band members liked to say. Equally compelling was Ralph’s heartfelt and rich singing, and his fiddle accompaniment to old-time, gospel, and country songs.
Audiences responded to Ralph’s transcendent stage performances, and he received invitations to play from California to Florida to New York to Alaska to Scotland. He won contests, recorded several albums, made a live-performance video tape, and appeared on national television and radio. What probably meant the most to him were the opportunities he had to visit and “jam session” with musicians ranging from internationally known folk and bluegrass artists, to symphony musicians, to rock-bottom beginners. No matter who the musicians were or what the situation, Ralph was always kind, welcoming, and poised to learn. In so doing, he became a profound teacher. He was a regular instructor at workshops across the country, where he always encouraged his students to “play yourself,” meaning they should reach down within their own feelings to find their own personal style of playing.
Fortunately, Ralph was widely recognized for his gifts while he was still alive and was able to appreciate it. He received numerous awards and honors, including the 2002 National Heritage Fellowship, for which he was immensely grateful. He had big plans, right up to the end. He was the picture of a fiddler, a model of a life well spent, and a true friend and gentleman.
A youth scholarship fund has been established in Ralph Blizard’s honor at the Swannanoa Gathering.
For more information, write to Warren Wilson
College, CPO 6211, PO Box 9000 Asheville, NC 28815.
Dr. T. R. Bryan Wilkes Heritage Museum Music Award: Billy Gee
Billy Gee was born in La Plata. He says, “Being able to play music gives me a huge thrill and I feel very fortunate to have had great musical influences to help me develop as a musician”. He was encouraged to join the elementary school band in fourth grade beginning with the trumpet. Later this evolved into a fascination with the guitar and bass and led to his first pop rock band in junior high and high school.
After graduation from La Plata High School he attended Appalachian State University and recieved a business degree in 1973. There he met and played with many western North Carolina musicians. Having completed his education he moved back to his beloved Southern Maryland and married Brenda Cooksey. Together they decided to make Wilkes County their home.
Billy and Donnie Story in popular regional groups and toured the east coast and southern states. Later he joined Jeff Pardue, Randy Gambill, Roger Miller and Keith Oliver in their group, Backstreet, which toured England and Scotland in 2002. After the death of international bluegrass legend Charlie Waller, Billy became one of the founding members of the Circuit Riders. Years later he was a founding member of the Tone Blazers, who produced three albums.
Billy has recorded on several album projects, including the Circuit Rider’s “Let The Ride Begin” and Eric Ellis’ “Every Night Before Breakfast.” He also performed with the Country Gentlemen at the 2005 Presidential Inaugural Celebration in Washington, D.C
He has performed at many bluegrass festivals on the east coast and is proud to have had the privilege to perform at every Merle Fest since 1992. He is honored to be a part of The Banknotes annual tribute to Bill Young at Merlefest.
He truly values his ties with local, influential musicians, including: Donnie Story, Randy Gambill, Jeff Pardue, Tony Joines, Wes Tuttle, Mike Palmer, RG Abasher, Eric Ellis, Buddy Wright, Chris Bryant, Clay Lundsford, Steve Lewis, David Culler, Dennis Shaw, Jody Call, Josh Day, Jens and Uwe Kruger, Joel Landsberg, and many others. Billy performs with many of them to this day.
When not performing, Billy operates his own guitar repair business, Guitar Specialist. Guitar Specialist is a respected warranty station for several brands including Martin, Taylor, and Fender. One of his many clients was the legendary Doc Watson.