Quay Smathers

Image courtesy of Mary Anne McDonald.

Sights & Sounds

Types of Artistry

Historic Artist

Quay Smathers

Shape-note singer and teacher and string band musician

Haywood County, NC

Quay Smathers played and sang the traditional music of Western North Carolina for over 65 years, and for much of that time was a leading force for its preservation. His love of the old-time music embraced both the secular and sacred traditions in the region. The Dutch Cove Stringband, which he formed with his three daughters, encouraged the revival of interest in the older-style string band music, which had begun to lose ground to more modern bluegrass sounds.

At the same time, he strove to keep alive the tradition of Christian Harmony shape-note singing, which he'd learned as a child in Haywood County. He learned to sing shape notes from his mother and at singing schools. His singing style was deliberate in tempo, intense, and subtly ornamented.

In the years after World War II, interest in shape-note singing fell off significantly and there was concern that the tradition would die entirely in Western North Carolina. At this point, Smathers became a tireless advocate and teacher of the tradition. He taught and encouraged his children to sing shape notes and travelled regularly outside the area to conduct workshops and classes. As a direct result of his efforts, more and more visitors from outside the community began to attend shape-note singings at Morning Star Methodist Church in Canton and at the elementary school in Etowah.

As a teacher, Smathers maintained rigorous standards. He expected his students to learn the history of the Christian Harmony and to sing in the style of their elders. "If I teach it I want to teach it right. If some of these younger singers can hear some of these older ones, then it will begin to rub off on them and they are going to understand all about it." Quay Smathers received the North Carolina Heritage Award in 1991.

 

Note: "Historic Artist" designates one who is deceased but whose legacy continues to influence and inspire new generations.