Buncombe County native Leonard Hollifield’s career as a guitarist began around the age of ten, when his father arranged for guitar lessons-not for him, but for Leonard’s older brother. He absorbed what he overheard of his brother’s lessons, and with an instrument in the house he was able to practice and experiment. Other musicians in the community also showed him what they knew. Over the course of the next seventy years, Hollifield became one of Western North Carolina’s most respected guitarists.
From about the age of twelve, he was playing for square dances and parties, at schoolhouses, and on the radio, with a variety of local bands. At fourteen he played for a regular radio show. With his younger brother, Hollifield played the circuit of dances in the area. “No one traveled very far,” he said, because in those days the roads were rough and transportation unreliable.
In the coming years, Hollifield would play with a gospel group called the Herron Valley Boys, named for the area in Buncombe County where he grew up, and with the Pine Ridge Boys, based in Georgia. Twice he did multi-year stints playing for the Kingsmen, the legendary Southern gospel quartet from the North Carolina mountains.
For thirty-nine years, Hollifield was the guitarist for the Stoney Creek Boys, the longtime host band at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival and Shindig on the Green. The Stoney Creek Boys also included fiddler Arvil Freeman, banjo player George Banks, and bass player Boyd Black, all veterans of the Asheville-area traditional music scene. Asked why his native Buncombe County has been home to so many great musicians, Leonard Hollifield said, “I think these mountains work a spell on you.”
In 2009, Hollifield was honored with the Bascom Lamar Lunsford award for his significant contributions to the music traditions of the southern mountain region.
Leonard Hollifield passed away on March 3, 2018 at the age of ninety-one.