Berlin “Berl” Ledford
Berlin Ledford was born into a musical family in Mitchell County, and he grew up listening to family and community members play music. Berlin’s father made a fretless banjo with a groundhog head that he played in a two-finger up-picking style. Berlin also had an older brother who played traditional music. Berlin picked up a banjo around the time he got married in 1960.
With Earl Scruggs as his main influence, Berlin learned to pick three-finger bluegrass banjo. He ran a grocery and hardware store where a group of friends often gathered to play bluegrass music in the back of the store. Visitors started frequenting the store to listen to the picking sessions. The group of pickers formally became the Glen Ayre Ramblers. They played at regional festivals and shows in the late 1970s, and were offered a spot at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. Numerous regional musicians played with the Glen Ayre Ramblers over the years including Berlin’s son, his cousin, George Ledford, and Wayne Ledford, another Mitchell County native with no direct relation to Berlin.
Berlin specialized in performing old mountain songs and ballads. In his later years, Berlin performed with his wife Patricia, who also grew up in Mitchell County, as “Pat and Berl.” Patricia played fiddle and bass, and Berlin played banjo, mandolin, and guitar. George Ledford often played guitar with the duo.
Pat and Berl performed at the Glen Ayre campground and at various venues and occasions including family reunions, barbeques, parties, restaurants, schools, festivals, and other shows. They also played gospel music and performed in local churches.
Berlin passed away on May 21, 2011.