Frank Bode began learning 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. In the nearly fifty years since then, he has 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 plays banjo for Flippen’s group, the Smokey Valley Boys, an oldtime band that has won many ribbons at many of the regional fiddlers conventions. Both Frank and Ginger play guitar with the Toast String Stretchers, a group that includes Paul Brown, Terri McMurray, and Verlen Clifton.
Frank has 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 says. “I don’t try to copy anyone.” He plays guitar either with a flatpick or fingerpicks, and he can play 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 is playing back up rhythm guitar for oldtime fiddle tunes and with the Toast String Stretchers.
Frank frequently plays guitar at local square dances with Benton Flippen in and around Surry County and southwest Virginia. He has 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 loves 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 says, “To keep it going. It’s unique. Until you get into it, you don’t know how special it is.”
Frank and Ginger play with the Toast String Stretchers, and they are available for school, festival, concert, and square dance performances. Frank also plays with the Smokey Valley Boys at festivals and square dances. He enjoys going into schools to perform and talk about the Surry County musical traditions.