One of Western North Carolina’s legendary old-time fiddlers, Manco Sneed was born in Jackson County. Manco’s father, John Sneed, who was half-Cherokee, was a renowned local fiddler, known for his acrobatic trick playing. His brothers Osco, Peco, and Cameo (Campbell) were all, to some degree, musicians or dancers as well, but it was Manco who excelled in music. As a young boy and a teenager, Sneed was exposed to traditional mountain music through community dances and other gatherings. His greatest influence was the fiddler J. D. (Dedrick) Harris from Flag Pond, Tennessee from whom he learned many tunes.
Although the family did not live as part of the Cherokee community, the Sneeds moved to the Cherokee tribal lands of the Qualla Boundary when Manco was a teenager. His opportunities to play with other musicians became restricted after the move, and Blanton Owen, who interviewed and researched Sneed in the 1970s, theorized that it was because of that comparative musical isolation that he developed his extremely intricate solo style of fiddling.
Sneed’s family remembered that at one time he could play for hours without repeating a single tune. However, field recorders only managed to capture twenty-eight tunes from his repertoire. He is best remembered for his elaborate, eerie versions of such tunes as “Polly Put the Kettle On,” “Lady Hamilton,” “Georgia Belle,” and “Blackberry Blossom.”
Sneed died in Cherokee in 1975, shortly before his ninetieth birthday.