With an entertaining career that spanned more than 60 years, Carl Story has been called “The Father of Bluegrass Gospel Music,” and he is a member of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame. Story played fiddle with Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys starting in 1942, before joining the Navy in 1943. After his discharge, Story helped shape the bluegrass gospel style and led a band that served as a training ground for many musicians.
Born in Lenoir in 1916, Carl Story grew up hearing his father play fiddle. By the time he was a teenager, Carl was playing fiddle and guitar and performing on local radio programs. He led a band in his early twenties that included a three-finger banjo player, helping pioneer the bluegrass sound. Story traveled around the region playing on different radio stations. He played in Lynchburg, Virginia, in the early 1930s, and moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, in the mid-’30s, where he joined Johnnie Whisnant and formed the Lonesome Mountaineers and Rambling Mountaineers. He played with these groups until joining Bill Monroe’s band in 1942.
After World War II, Story reorganized his band in Asheville, signed with Mercury, and performed at radio stations in Knoxville and Bristol, Tennessee. His group, the Rambling Mountaineers, included Jack and Curley Shelton, Hoke Jenkins, and Claude Boone. They performed both secular and sacred music, but most of their repertoire was gospel. Other musicians who played in Story’s band include Bobby Thompson, Bud and Willie Brewster, Tater Tate, Red Rector, Fred Smith, and Ray Atkins.
Story’s band recorded with Mercury for five years, and later recorded on the Columbia and Starday labels. During the peak years of his career, Carl Story and his Rambling Mountaineers hosted radio and television shows in several Southeastern states, and had a 10-year affiliation with WNOX’s Tennessee Barn Dance program in Knoxville. His band was a fixture at bluegrass festivals throughout the 1970s, ’80s, and early ’90s.
Story retired to Greer, South Carolina, where he worked as a disc jockey and continued to perform until his death in 1995. Over the course of his entertainment career, Carl Story recorded more than 2,000 songs and 55 albums. A section of NC Highway 18 that passes through his hometown of Lenoir is named in his honor.