Growing up in the Smoky Mountains in the 1930s and ’40s, autoharp player Gene Reed liked to listen to “what we used to call hillbilly music,” he said. He was particularly fond of the Carter Family and Maybelle Carter’s autoharp playing, but it wasn’t until 1964, when his wife bought him an autoharp, that he began to learn the instrument. He played music in his spare time during his thirty-one years of service as Postmaster in Whittier. When he retired, he was able to devote much of his time to playing and performing the traditional music he loved.
“My family’s musical,” Reed said, “all of them.” He grew up in a family of seven children, with three piano-playing sisters. One of his brothers, Max Reed, is a bluegrass banjo player who performed often in the Asheville area.
Reed especially enjoyed playing hymns and gospel music, and recorded a full album of such tunes titled Smoky Mountain Autoharp Gospel. He attended Shoal Creek Baptist Church in the Jackson County township of Qualla, and enjoyed visiting other churches to play for services or homecomings.
Eugene Reed passed away on July 25, 2016 at the age of 89.