Born in Grayson County, Virginia, in 1902, Bertie Dickens lived most of her life in the community of Ennice in Alleghany County, North Carolina. The stringband music traditions of this area are among the richest to be found anywhere in the South. Dickens’ father, Sid Caudill, was considered one of the finest fiddlers of his generation, and he welcomed musicians to the family home. Recalled Dickens, “A bunch of them, they’d come there at my daddy’s, sit up about all night long and play. Just fiddle and banjo, they didn’t even have a guitar. It was like having a fiddler’s convention every weekend.”
Raised in this musical environment, Dickens learned to play the fiddle and banjo as a young child. She proved to have a special touch on the banjo and learned both the old-time clawhammer style as well as a two-finger, up-picking technique that is heard only rarely in the region today. She chose her notes carefully, playing only those that were essential to convey the melody. She filled in behind the melody with a complex and lilting rhythmic accompaniment that was perfect to dance to. Her style has been described by fellow musician and friend Alice Gerrard as “sparse and beautiful, like Bert herself, with a classic dignity and sound.” Bertie Dickens received the North Carolina Heritage Award in 1992.