Paul Brown

Oldtime musician

Pinnacle, NC (Surry County)

A musician since childhood, Paul Brown spent years collecting and documenting traditional music in southwestern Virginia and northwest North Carolina, particularly the stunningly rich traditions around Mount Airy in the region known as Round Peak.

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Hilary Dirlam

Oldtime musician

Mars Hill, NC (Madison County)

In her more than twenty-five years as a resident of the North Carolina mountains, oldtime musician Hilary Dirlam has made significant contributions to the region's music, both in her own playing and through her preservation efforts. Dirlam played bass for both the Carroll Best Band and Luke Smathers' Mountain Swing Band, placing her at the heart of some of western Carolina's classic music traditions.

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George and Brooke Buckner


Weaverville, NC (Buncombe County)

George Buckner is a fourth-generation banjo player, and a native of Buncombe County. His father, grandfather, aunt, and uncles all played oldtime music. Nurturing his musical inclinations, George's aunt Sue, who played and sang, took him to jam sessions and festivals, where he met and learned from Ralph Lewis, Carroll Best, and many other great musicians. In ninth grade, George and some friends formed a band.

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Donald Clifton and The Country Boys

Bluegrass band

Mt. Airy, NC (Surry County)

Donald Clifton was born and raised in Surry County where he was exposed to traditional music and dance as a young boy. "I was drug to square dances as far back as I can remember," he says. Donald also listened to the Grand Ole Opry every chance he had. By the time he was eight or nine years old, Donald started playing guitar. "I had the desire to play ever since I was young," he says. Donald's aunt played the guitar, and she showed him some chords to help him get started. After that, Donald listened to records and learned to play by ear.

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Buncombe Turnpike

Bluegrass band

Buncombe McDowell Counties

The bluegrass quintet Buncombe Turnpike is comprised entirely of western North Carolina natives. The band plays a variety of tunes ranging from traditional and contemporary bluegrass to gospel and hand-crafted originals. It takes its name from the historic thoroughfare that ran through the mountains of western North Carolina from Greeneville, TN to Greenville, SC in the 1800s.

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Charlie Edwards

Bluegrass guitar player

Sparta, NC (Alleghany County)

Charlie Edwards was born and raised in Maryland, but his parents were from Alleghany County, and they made frequent trips back for family visits throughout his life. In Maryland, they lived in the midst of a number of other migrants from Alleghany County. He remembers hearing Ola Belle Reed and Alex Campbell and the New River Boys and Girls at Sunset Park, a popular music park that Ola Belle and Alex operated near where Charlie and his family lived. "I was up there a lot," remembers Charlie.

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Walker Calhoun

Cherokee singer, dancer, banjo player

Cherokee, NC (Qualla Boundary)

Walker Calhoun, respected Cherokee elder, sang the traditional sacred dance songs of the Cherokee, and played an important role in maintaining and passing on these traditions to the next generation. In his later years, he led two traditional dance groups that accompanied him to performances, The Raven Rock Dancers and the Warriors of AniKituhwa. Walker Calhoun also demonstrated how to make the Cherokee blowgun from river cane and how to make blowgun darts from wild thistle.

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Elkville String Band

Oldtime band

North Wilkesboro, NC (Wilkes County)

The Elkville String Band, from Wilkes County, performs old-time mountain music, playing mostly older music, but also some newer compositions from past band members Drake Walsh and Jeff Michael. Band members are all very interested in keeping the old traditional music from Western North Carolina and Southwest Virginia preserved for future generations.

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Christian Harmony singers of Etowah

Shape-Note Singers

Henderson County, NC

The group that gathers twice a year to sing is made up of regular, long-time attendees and newcomers who are encouraged to visit and join in their first shape-note singing. The shape-note system, which was popular in congregations throughout the South in the nineteenth century—and to a declining, though still significant, degree in the twentieth century—was devised to simplify the reading of written music.

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Eric Ellis

Bluegrass banjo player

Wilkesboro, NC (Wilkes County)

Eric Ellis was born and raised in Wilkesboro in a musical family. He has become one of the premier bluegrass banjo players in western North Carolina. His grandfather played music with Dock Walsh, a Wilkes County recording artist in the 1920s, and his father maintained that interest in music and played guitar. Musicians on his mother's side of the family include his second cousin, David Johnson, a Wilkes County master musician and recording artist.

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