Frank Bode learned to play guitar and clawhammer banjo in the Mount Airy community from his wife, Ginger Sykes Bode, and the Sykes family when he was nineteen years old. For nearly 50 years, he played with many of the well-known area musicians and bands including three North Carolina Folk Heritage Award recipients: Paul Sutphin, Verlen Clifton, and Benton Flippen. Frank often played banjo for Flippen’s group, the Smokey Valley Boys, an oldtime band that won many ribbons at the regional fiddlers conventions. Both Frank and Ginger played guitar with the Toast String Stretchers, a group that included Paul Brown, Terri McMurray, and Verlen Clifton.
Frank listened to the oldtime music in Surry County since he moved there at age nine. He could play a few chords on the guitar, and when he married Ginger he became more interested in the traditional stringband music that was part of her family life. He learned to play by listening and by participating in musical gatherings around the house and community. “I just play the way I learned,” he said. “I don’t try to copy anyone.” He played guitar either with a flatpick or fingerpicks, and he played clawhammer banjo.
Ginger grew up surrounded by traditional oldtime music. Her mother, a banjo player, was descended from Pet McKinney, who had been an influential musician in Surry County. Ginger’s father, Coy Sykes, and uncle, Robert Sykes, frequently played together. Her parents actually met each other while they were playing music for dances. Her mother played clawhammer banjo, and her father played fiddle and guitar. Ginger learned to play guitar at age 11, and she often sang with her two sisters. One of her favorite roles was playing back up rhythm guitar for oldtime fiddle tunes and with the Toast String Stretchers.
Frank frequently played guitar at local square dances with Benton Flippen in and around Surry County and southwest Virginia. He played at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, for the National Council for the Traditional Arts folklife festivals in Ohio and Chattaqnooga, for events sponsored by the North Carolina Arts Council, and for the Blue Ridge Music Center. For twelve years, he played on the Home Town Opry in Mount Airy with the Toast String Stretchers. He also loved to play for young people, talk about the tradition, and encourage their interest in continuing the community tradition. When asked what he loves about oldtime music, Frank said, “To keep it going. It’s unique. Until you get into it, you don’t know how special it is.”
Frank Bode passed away on January 9, 2017 at the age of 77.