A musician since childhood, Paul Brown spent years collecting and documenting traditional music in southwestern Virginia and northwest North Carolina, particularly the stunningly rich traditions around Mount Airy in the region known as Round Peak. As a performer, a record producer, and a radio host—formerly of Mount Airy’s famous hometown station, WPAQ, and now reaching a national audience as a newscaster and reporter for National Public Radio’s Morning Edition—Paul Brown has introduced millions to the special world of Round Peak music, and helped to ensure its preservation and vitality for future generations.
Paul started picking banjo on a new Sears Silvertone when he was ten. He developed his own two- and three-finger styles, and also learned the clawhammer style. His interest, and his discovery of the Clawhammer Banjo albums, inspired him to make frequent trips to visit as many of the older players as he could. He has visited and played music with a number of the older artists in the Southern Appalachian region.
Paul spent years learning music directly from some of the last fiddle, banjo, and guitar players to emerge before the age of radio and recordings, including Tommy Jarrell, Gilmer Woodruff, Fields Ward, Robert Sykes, Luther Davis, Verlen Clifton, and Paul Sutphin. Paul studied banjo intensively with Tommy Jarrell, and he learned much from the playing of Wade Ward. He spent considerable time with Wade’s nephew, Fields, a fine guitarist, banjo player and singer. He also played in the Smokey Valley Boys with Benton Flippen, Verlen Clifton, and Paul Sutphin. When Paul Sutphin died, Paul Brown wrote about how Sutphin influenced the musicians: “More than anything else, he would infuse the performance with focused energy, intensity and happiness that drove the rest of us to play harder and better than we thought we could.”
Paul has recorded with many of his friends including Bruce Molsky, Mike Seeger, and Tara Nevins. His most recent recordings are Way Down In North Carolina with Mike Seeger, Benton Flippen: Old Time, New Times, and Blue Ridge Mountain Holiday: The Breaking Up Christmas Story. His most recent recording, Red Clay County, features Paul’s banjo playing, fiddling, and singing, and it has received a rave review from The Old-Time Herald magazine.
Paul performs with the Smokey Valley Boys and the Toast String Stretchers, which includes Frank and Ginger Bode and Paul’s wife Terri McMurray. He also performs solo and in small ensembles with a variety of musicians including his wife Terri and guitarist John Schwab. He is available on a limited basis for demonstrations, workshops, concerts, and as a stage master of ceremonies for traditional music events. Paul has been on the staff at music camps across the country since the early 1970s, from the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in the state of Washington to the Swannanoa Gathering in North Carolina.