Elena Diana Miller, a traditional folk musician and storyteller, grew up in the hills of western North Carolina in Buncombe County hearing her grandfather play harmonica and tell stories. Mountain music and stories were instilled from the very beginning when she learned to play mountain instruments, tell stories, and sing ballads and old hymns. She shared these stories with neighbors and family as they sat around the fireplace on a Saturday night or enjoyed Sunday afternoon dinner. Her favorite stories to tell are Jack Tales, Aesop’s Fables, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, and mountain stories. Her repertoire includes a variety of stories, singing old time hymn tunes, traditional folk songs and ballads, and playing Appalachian lap dulcimer, autoharp, and guitar.
For decades, Elena has performed folk stories and music of the Blue Ridge region for the Arts Council of Henderson County and has performed in camps, clubs, and for special events sharing traditional mountain stories and songs. In schools and libraries she demonstrates some of the old farm-hand tools, kitchen implements, and wooden folk toys, while discussing history of Appalachia. She uses puppetry for smaller children to tell stories and plays the Appalachian lap dulcimer, talking about the instrument’s history in America. For many years, Elena performed in music festivals with an old time traditional string band, including annual appearances at Berea College, Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival, Asheville Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, and at John C. Campbell Folk School. As a career National Park Service Interpreter, Elena educated visitors from around the world about Appalachian history, history of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Carl Sandburg through storytelling, folk music, and writing. Elena directed the Diversity Storytelling Series at Feed & Seed in Fletcher, encouraging performances from Cherokee, African-American, and Hispanic storytellers and musicians. She co-chaired and was master of ceremony for the North Carolina Storytelling Guild Tarheel Tellers Storytelling Festival at the Andy Griffith Playhouse in Mount Airy in 2017, and she chaired the 2018 NCSG festival at Henderson County Public Library while she was the 2017-2018 President of the North Carolina Storytelling Guild. Elena served on the board of directors for Asheville Storytelling Circle and is a member of the steering committee for Stories on Asheville’s Front Porch.
Elena founded the annual Carl Sandburg Folk Music and Storytelling Festival in 1987, at the Carl Sandburg Home, to help perpetuate and preserve folk history, music, and lore. The festival honors Carl Sandburg as a storyteller and folk musician, and it features performances by local and regional tellers and musicians. While a career National Park Service Interpretive Ranger at Carl Sandburg Home N.H.S., Elena won the first place National “Best Interpretive Arts Program Award” in the United States National Park Service. The Mtn Women’s String Band, in which Elena was a member, performed in the 1983 World’s Fair in Knoxville, TN, and the band won first place for Old Time Traditional String Band at Fiddler’s Grove in Union Grove, North Carolina. She won first prize in autoharp at Smoky Mountain Festival in Waynesville, NC. In addition to storytelling, historic presentations and playing traditional music on autoharp, guitar, and Appalachian lap dulcimer, Elena performs Chautauqua storytelling and teaches Blue Ridge mountain ancestral history.