Three NC Artists Receive Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellows

South Arts has awarded North Carolina’s Sheila Kay Adams, Travis Stuart, and Rodney Sutton the inaugural In These Mountains: Folk & Traditional Master Artist Fellowships. Each traditional artist will receive an award of $9,000 to continue their lifelong learning. They are among nine Master Artists selected from North Caroilna, Kentucky and Tennessee.

“The traditional arts and culture of Central Appalachia are integral components of our national identity,” said program director Teresa Hollingsworth. “Bluegrass, old time music, and flatfooting dancing represent centuries of traditional culture that have been passed down across generations. And, as new residents make their homes in these communities, we hope new traditions in the South will flourish. Our first class of Master Artists represent the standard-bearers keeping these traditions strong and perpetuating them for younger artists.”
 

Sheila Kay Adams
Ballad Singer, Storyteller, Banjo Player. Madison County. Marshall, North Carolina

Born and raised in the Sodom Laurel community of Madison County, N.C., Sheila Kay Adams is a seventh-generation ballad singer, storyteller, and claw-hammer banjo player. Originating in the border country between England and Scotland, the ballads that Adams sing have been passed down through her family since the early 1700s, when Adams’ ancestors first settled in Appalachia. Learning how to sing as a child from her great-aunt, Adams has developed an illustrious resume showcasing, documenting, and advocating for Western North Carolina’s unaccompanied ballad singing tradition. She has performed at festivals, workshops, and other events all across the United States and the United Kingdom, including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., and the International Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Her songs and stories have been recorded for several albums: My Dearest Dear (2000), Other Fine Things (2004), and Live at the International Storytelling Festival (2007). Her two books, Come Go Home With Me (1997) and My Old True Love (2004), have garnered praise from Life Magazine, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other outlets.

A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship (2013) and North Carolina Heritage Award (2015), Adams has complemented international acclaim with deep, local commitment to her community. She continues to mentor the new generation of unaccompanied ballad singers on the history and technique of the tradition. With support of the In These Mountains Folk and Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship, Adams intends to write a book telling the story of her ancestors’ interactions with folklorists, documentarians, and song-collectors since the early 20th Century. “To my knowledge,” says Adams, “this book will be the first publication of a cultural insider’s view on this complicated relationship between the singers who lived and breathed within the culture and those drawn to them from faraway places.”

Travis Stuart
Old Time Music; Banjo Player; Fiddle Player. Haywood County. Canton, North Carolina

A Bethel native and Haywood County, N.C. resident, Travis Stuart is a banjo player who has been performing old time music rooted in Western North Carolina for over twenty years. The backbone of bluegrass, old time string band music carries a legacy that is inescapable, and from his earliest days growing up, Stuart was steeped in that legacy. Brought up in a rich musical community and family, Stuart learned to play banjo from local musicians like Avery County's Red Wilson, recipient of a 2003 North Carolina Heritage Award. Playing his great-uncle Austin Stamley's banjo, Stuart has mastered a local old time style and shared it around the United States and Europe, touring and recording alongside his twin brother, Trevor. In 2017, he and Trevor released The Stuart Brothers, a generous collection of 23 tunes both traditional and original.

As far as his music takes him, Stuart remembers to bring it on home, working to preserve and pass down Western North Carolina's old time music to the next generation through teaching and mentoring. He has facilitated workshops and classes for Junior Appalachian Musicians and East Tennessee State University's Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies program. With support from the Folk and Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship, Stuart would like to further develop his teaching abilities by studying the methods of other traditional artists in North Carolina, Louisiana, Wales, and England.

Rodney Sutton
Flatfoot Dancer; Clogger; Dance Caller. Buncombe County. Asheville, North Carolina

A resident of Buncombe County in Asheville N.C., Rodney Sutton is a flatfoot dancer, clogger, and dance caller who has taught and advocated for traditional percussive step dances since the 1970s. One of many several American step dances, flatfooting (also known as buckdancing) developed from the intermingling of English, Scottish, and Irish step dances with African American dance styles in Southern Appalachia. Accompanied by old time or bluegrass music, flatfooting and other mountain dances had been a staple of birthdays, holidays, wedding days, and other social gatherings for decades; in his youth, Sutton first attended such community dances where his father would play old time guitar, banjo, and piano.

Mentored by North Carolina Heritage Awardee Robert Dotson, Sutton has spent decades bearing, preserving, and passing down mountain dance traditions. In 1972, he joined the Green Grass Cloggers, with whom he has performed, developed workshops, and acted as director and booking coordinator. In 1979, co-founded the Fiddle Puppet Dancers (Footworks), contributing as a dancer, road manager, and booking agent for over ten years. In North Carolina alone, Sutton has taken a multitude of roles as an instructor, curriculum coordinator, event organizer, board member, and executive director in various folklife organizations and festivals, including Bluff Mountain Festival, Shindig on the Green, Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, and Swannanoa Gathering.

As the 2012 recipient of Asheville’s Folk Heritage Committee’s Sam Queen Award, Sutton has found no lack of motivation to keep his feet moving and hands busy. With the support of the Folk and Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship, Sutton intends to explore the roots of his flat foot style by learning from Sean-nós dancers in Ireland who share his passion for preserving, performing, and passing down their vibrant step-dance traditions.

The other recipients include:

  • Will Bowling. Square Dance Caller. Oneida, Kentucky.
  • Matt Downer. Old Time Fiddler and Banjo Player. Chattanooga, Tennessee.
  • Ranjani Murthy. Bharata Natyam and Kuchipudi. Knoxville, Tennessee.
  • Douglas Naselroad. Luthiery. Winchester, Kentucky.
  • William Parsons. Luthiery. Olive Hill, Kentucky.
  • Sue Williams. White Oak Basketmaker. Morrison, Tennessee

“The traditional arts and culture of Central Appalachia are integral components of our national identity,” said program director Teresa Hollingsworth. “Bluegrass, old time music, and flatfooting dancing represent centuries of traditional culture that have been passed down across generations. And, as new residents make their homes in these communities, we hope new traditions in the South will flourish. Our first class of Master Artists represent the standard-bearers keeping these traditions strong and perpetuating them for younger artists.”

The Master Artists were selected from approximately 75 submissions by a juried panel including Mark Brown (folk and traditional arts director, Kentucky Arts Council), Whitney Brown (independent folklorist, writer, and dry-stone waller), Linda Damron Caldwell (founding executive director, Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association), Bradley A. Hanson (director of folklife, Tennessee Arts Commission), and Sally Peterson (folklife director, North Carolina Arts Council).

Work samples and profiles of the nine Folks & Traditional Master Arts Fellowship recipients are available on www.southarts.org. Information and guidelines for future rounds of this fellowship will be posted in late fall 2019.

 

About South Arts

South Arts advances Southern vitality through the arts. The nonprofit regional arts organization was founded in 1975 to build on the South’s unique heritage and enhance the public value of the arts. South Arts’ work responds to the arts environment and cultural trends with a regional perspective. South Arts offers an annual portfolio of activities designed to support the success of artists and arts providers in the South, address the needs of Southern communities through impactful arts-based programs, and celebrate the excellence, innovation, value and power of the arts of the South. For more information, visit www.southarts.org.