Ramona Church grew up in Wilkes County listening to her grandfather play banjo in an old two-finger style and hearing her mother’s family sing gospel music. She has been playing banjo and performing since she was a young girl. She was raised largely by her maternal grandparents after her father’s death. She had some musical uncles including Maynard Holbrook and fiddler Jim Shumate. It was her grandfather’s banjo playing, however, that first intrigued her.
“Grandpa always had a banjo laying around,” Ramona says. “I’ve always tried to fool with it ever since I can remember.” Her grandfather showed her a two-finger version of “Boil That Cabbage Down,” and Ramona played the song over and over. By the time she was eight years old, she started taking banjo lessons with local Scruggs-style banjo wiz, Eric Ellis. She was soon performing. By the time she was ten years old, Ramona got her first gig playing with Jimmy Church and the Gems at Tweetsie Railroad outside of Boone. She made a couple recordings as a teenager, enlisting the help of her great-great uncle Jim Shumate to play fiddle on some cuts.
Ramona is a versatile musician. She played some guitar with Jeff Michael‘s Bluegrass Revival band and can also play bass. Most often, though, she sticks to three-finger banjo picking. She has played with groups that include the Stone Mountain Travelers, a group of local musicians, and the Maggie Valley house band with Raymond Fairchild.
When Ramona was seventeen years old, she joined the New Coon Creek Girls bluegrass band that originated in 1979 in eastern Kentucky. She performed with them from 1990 to 1997 and moved to Kentucky for a few years while the group toured extensively and recorded. With the New Coon Creek Girls, Ramona traveled and played in thirty-three states, Canada, and Mexico. After a few years of living in Kentucky and performing, Ramona moved back to Wilkes County and commuted from there.
Today she lives in Wilkes County and continues to play music professionally.
Ramona Church is available for performances.