Born in Vonore, Tennessee, not far from his later North Carolina home in Robbinsville, Gilford Williams took up the banjo as a child. “I just took it up, then I’d lay it down,” Williams said, describing the way he learned. Though various life events intervened, including time spent in service during World War II, he became an accomplished oldtime musician. He played two-finger banjo, guitar, harmonica, and fiddle. He was also a singer and noted for the way he sang the old gospel songs.
“When I get out in front of a crowd of people,” said Williams, “I just play for the fun of it.” He performed at the 1982 Worlds Fair in Knoxville, and for twenty years appeared at Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Day. He and his wife also toured as a gospel duet for many years, playing on many radio stations throughout the region.
Gilford was a featured musician and speaker in Mountain Talk: Language and Life in Southern Appalachia, a film produced by the North Carolina Language and Life project at North Carolina State University. At Robbinsville’s 2006 Fourth of July celebration, he joined his friend Jim Tom Hedrick in demonstrating the operation of a moonshine still—distilling water, he said.