Jerry Adams was descended from many generations of residents of the Laurel section of Madison County. Though he described himself in Blue Ridge Music Trails as being “not really from a family of musicians,” meaning that his parents did not play, Adams was closely related by blood and marriage to many of the county’s revered traditional musicians, including Lee Wallin and Sheila Kay Adams, both cousins. After graduating from the University of Georgia, Jerry Adams returned to his native Madison County and worked for thirty-five years as a pharmacist. In his later years, he lived in eastern Tennessee.
Adams was one of the few remaining masters of the distinctive, loping two-finger style of banjo playing once common in western North Carolina. He was initially inspired to pick up the banjo after hearing Lee Wallin play, and he learned the instrument from community and family members. He later assumed the role of teacher, counting among his students Madison County’s young star musician Josh Goforth.
Jerry Adams won numerous awards for his banjo playing, including high honors at Fiddler’s Grove, and played at many festivals and concerts in the region. He passed away on June 21, 2013 at the age of sixty-six.