Trivia Tuesday: Ralph Pennington

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

After a stint fiddling with Bill Monroe, Wilkes County native Jim Shumate joined fellow North Carolinian Earl Scruggs in time to record on the Foggy Mountain Boys’ first recording session. During that inaugural session, Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys cut “Cabin in Caroline,” a song penned by fellow Wilkes County native Ralph Pennington. A talented luthier, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter, Pennington wrote songs and tunes that later became bluegrass standards recorded by the likes of the Stanley Brothers and the Church Brothers.

Anniversary of Charlie Poole's Death

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Charlie Poole, banjo extraordinaire and founder of the old-time music pioneers, the North Carolina Ramblers, was born in Randolph County. A hand injury at a young age led him to play banjo with a distinctive three-finger style, often imitated today. Although he died on this day in 1931, at the age of 39, his legacy lives on with his songs “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Blues,” “Sweet Sunny South,” and more being covered by the likes of Bob Dylan, Loudon Wainwright III and the Steep Canyon Rangers.

Happy Birthday Charlie Poole

Friday, March 22, 2019

On March 22, 1892, Charlie Poole, banjoist extraordinaire and founder of the old–time music pioneers known as the North Carolina Ramblers, was born in Randolph County.

At an early age Poole moved to Spray (now Eden in Rockingham County) and, over the course of his short life, achieved near-legendary status. Although he died in 1931, before reaching age 40, his star continues to rise to this day.

Partnering with two neighbors, Poole made some of the first known country music records. His high-pitched vocal style was a hit. The Ramblers’ fan base extended from the Piedmont cotton mills all across the nation. Music historian Bill Malone concluded that

No string band in early country music equaled the Ramblers’ controlled, clean, well-patterned sound.

Poole had smashed his right hand in a childhood baseball accident, leaving his fingers curled and leading him to favor a three-finger banjo picking style. Stories about his drinking, rambling, and carousing are widespread. His style of living prefigured that of Hank Williams a generation later.

In recent years re-releases of his works, featuring songs such as “Can I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight, Mister” and “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” have reached new audiences.

This post comes from the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources On This Day project.


Happy Birthday, Doc Watson!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

On March 3, 1923, Arthel Lane Watson, known to the world as “Doc” Watson, was born in Watauga County. The sixth of nine children, Watson developed an eye infection that left him blind as an infant, and he was sent to attend the Governor Morehead School in Raleigh.

His parents sang and encouraged their son’s interest in music.  Virtually self taught, he mastered harmonica, banjo and guitar at an early age. It was his guitar playing that garnered the greatest attention, however, due to his unique style.  In 1953 he was playing with a band that often did not have a fiddle player.  Watson taught himself to play the fiddle parts on his guitar, often at breakneck speeds.

Although he had been playing locally for years, Watson was not discovered nationally until the 1960s during the folk music revival.  In 1961 he and several other musicians played in Greenwich Village. That led to other concerts, and Watson was invited to perform at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 and 1964.

Watson never claimed to be a purist; he played music that he liked and he had eclectic taste. During his long career he won eight Grammys and, in 1997, the National Medal of Arts.

This post is originally from NCDNCR's "On This Day" blog .


Finally, enjoy Doc Watson with the Nashville Bluegrass Band performing "I'll Fly Away" at the annual Sunday Morning Gospel Set at Merlefest in 2012. This would be Doc Watson's final live performance. 

Women! Mount Airy Old-Time Workshops Preview

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Some of the most esteemed and respected women in old-time music will lead workshops in fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass, mandolin, flat foot dance/square dance calling, and harmony singing during the Women! Mount Air Old-Time Workshops scheduled Thursday, Feb. 28 to Saturday, March 2.

Hosted by the Surry Arts Council with support from the N.C. Department of Natural & Cultural Resources the workshops are being held in conjunction with the Tommy Jarrell Festival, which also kicks off on Thurs., Feb. 28 with old-time dance lessons. 

Registration is still open, and students and adults of all ages are invited to participate. Register online through the Surry Arts Council's secure Eventbrite site. Tuition is $300 and includes classes, meals (lunch and dinner), event tickets, and a t-shirt.

Classes will be held at the Andy Griffith Playhouse and the Historic Earle Theatre in Mount Airy, N.C.

The following musicians are leading the workshops:

Caroline Beverley teaches mandolin, singing, guitar and string band classes at Alleghany JAM (Junior Appalachian Musicians) at Surry Community College in Dobson and plays mandolin for the Virginia based old-time band, the New Ballards Branch Bogtrotters, as well as other N.C. bands.

Trish Kilby Ford started playing old-time music as a young teenager under the instruction of Emily Spencer and many other old-time and bluegrass musicians around her hometown of Lansing in Ashe County, N.C. In the 26 years of playing old-time music, Trish has been influenced by legends in traditional music, including Thornton and Emily Spencer, Dean Sturgill, the Birchfield Family, Ola Belle Reed, just to name a few. She has played with many groups and traveled internationally.

Erynn Marshall is an old-time fiddler who lives in Galax, Virginia and is known nationally and beyond for her traditional music she learned Appalachian old-time fiddling from rare recording and visiting 80-95-year-old southern fiddlers for decades. Erynn performs at festivals and music camps around the globe and often tours with her husband – songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Carl Jones.

Terri McMurray has great chops on 5-string banjo, banjo uke, and guitar. She studied with many masters including the late Tommy Jarrell and has played with great banjoists including Dix Freeman, Fields West, Benton Fllippen and Kyle Creed. Terri co-founded the Old Hollow String Band and has also performed with the Toast String Stretchers, the Mostly Mountain Boys and the Mountain Birch Duo with Paul Brown. She has taught at numerous banjo camps, including in England.

Emily Spencer is a certified PK-12 teacher and has taught fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, dulcimer and bass in the schools and at Wilkes Community College and Wytheville Community College. She has played music since childhood and started playing with the Whitetop Mountain Band in the 1970s with Thornton Spencer and continues with the band today.

Martha Spencer is the daughter of Emily and Thornton Spencer, the leaders of the Whitetop Mountain Band. She began dancing and playing at a young age and currently plays fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass, and dulcimer. She has won countless competitions for her Appalachian dancing and has taken part in master dance workshop at the National Folk Festival (USA), Woodford Folk Festival (AU) and Lowell Folk Festival (USA). Her music passion includes passing on the traditions and she has been an instructor in the Junior Appalachian Music (JAM) program in Ashe County and plays with numerous bands.

The Father of Bluegrass Gospel Music

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The following post draws from the traditional artist directory of our partners at the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.

With an entertaining career that spanned more than 60 years, Carl Story (1916-1995) has been called “The Father of Bluegrass Gospel Music.” Story played fiddle with Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys starting in 1942, before joining the Navy in 1943. After his discharge, Story helped shape the bluegrass gospel style and led a band that served as a training ground for many musicians.

Born in Lenoir in 1916, Story grew up hearing his father play fiddle. By the time he was a teenager, Story was playing fiddle and guitar and performing on local radio programs. He led a band in his early twenties that included a three-finger banjo player, helping pioneer the bluegrass sound. Story traveled around the region playing on different radio stations. He played in Lynchburg, Virginia, in the early 1930s, and moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, in the mid-’30s, where he joined Johnnie Whisnant and formed the Lonesome Mountaineers and Rambling Mountaineers. He played with these groups until joining Bill Monroe’s band in 1942.

After World War II, Story reorganized his band in Asheville, signed with Mercury, and performed at radio stations in Knoxville and Bristol, Tennessee. His group, the Rambling Mountaineers performed both secular and sacred music, but most of their repertoire was gospel.

Story’s band recorded with Mercury for five years, and later recorded on the Columbia and Starday labels. During the peak years of his career, Carl Story and his Rambling Mountaineers hosted radio and television shows in several Southeastern states and had a 10-year affiliation with WNOX’s Tennessee Barn Dance program in Knoxville. His band was a fixture at bluegrass festivals throughout the 1970s, ’80s, and early ’90s.

Story retired to Greer, South Carolina, where he worked as a disc jockey and continued to perform until his death in 1995. Over the course of his entertainment career, Carl Story recorded more than 2,000 songs and 55 albums. A section of NC Highway 18 that passes through his hometown of Lenoir is named in his honor and he is a member of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame.

A Saturday Morning Tradition: The WPAQ Merry-Go-Round

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Every Saturday, Mt. Airy's community radio station WPAQ broadcasts live, local, and regional music on the Merry-Go-Round, one of the longest running live radio programs in America.

The mountains and foothills of North Carolina are known internationally as places rich in traditional old-time music, stringband music, ballad singing and bluegrass, and ways to experience authentic music flourish throughout the region. From hometown opry’s and informal jam sessions to concert stages, festivals and old-time music conventions, visitors can enjoy traditional music and dance in friendly, informal settings, some dating back almost a century. The North Carolina Arts Council developed the Blue Ridge Music Trails to encourage travelers to explore the regions incredible music experiences.

An important focus of Blue Ridge Music traditions is the town of Mt. Airy, the hometown of Andy Griffith (and inspiration for his famous Mayberry). Nestled in the foothills of the mountains, the  town is home to the second longest currently running live radio program in the nation: WPAQ’s Merry-Go-Round. Every Saturday WPAQ presents live, local and regional music on the Merry-Go-Round, a live radio broadcast staged in The Earle, a vintage movie theater in the heart of Mt. Airy. The podcast Down The Road, a production of the Blue Ridge Music Trails by the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, explores the history of  WPAQ’s Merry-Go-Round in this episode.

Listeners from around the world can tune into WPAQ's Merry-Go-Round broadcast on Saturdays between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. here.



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