Music

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.

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Ramona Church

Bluegrass musician

Purlear, NC (Wilkes County)

Ramona Church grew up in Wilkes County listening to her grandfather play banjo in an old two-finger style and hearing her mother's family sing gospel music. She has been playing banjo and performing since she was a young girl. She was raised largely by her maternal grandparents after her father's death. She had some musical uncles including Maynard Holbrook and fiddler Jim Shumate. It was her grandfather's banjo playing, however, that first intrigued her.

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Clear Creek

Bluegrass and bluegrass gospel band

Old Fort, NC (McDowell County)

Clear Creek is a popular bluegrass and bluegrass gospel band in McDowell County consisting of musicians who have lived and played in the area for a long time. All of the members have been very involved with the local traditional music around Old Fort and Marion, and they are staples on Friday nights at Young's Mountain Music in Old Fort.

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Verlen Clifton

Mandolin player

Mount Airy, NC (Surry County)

North Carolina Folk Heritage Award recipient Verlen Clifton grew up in the Round Peak community of Surry County where musicians developed a powerful brand of stringband music based on the fiddle and banjo ensemble tradition. His playing has earned the admiration of local residents and attracted the attention of old-time music enthusiasts throughout the country. Verlen first played banjo and guitar, but he eventually settled on mandolin, which he plays more as a rhythm rather than a lead instrument.

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