Rita Scott was born in Ashe County, and she was exposed to the traditional music of the area at a young age. Her uncle played clawhammer banjo, and Albert Hash, a relative of her aunt, lived just over the Virginia border. While she was growing up, she was not interested in the music. “I was a teenager and hated the music,” she says. In her twenties, Rita was living in Winston-Salem working for R.J. Reynolds, and listening to mountain music and bluegrass on the radio. She remembers listening to Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice on a radio program, and during the break, it was announced that Albert Hash would be giving fiddle lessons at the old hospital in West Jefferson.
Rita was almost thirty years old when she bought a fiddle and started taking lessons with Albert Hash in West Jefferson. She soon moved back to Ashe County and continued taking lessons with Hash through Wilkes Community College. “I was mostly playing with local people,” she says, some of whom included Hash, Wayne Henderson, and Thornton and Emily Spencer. Rita credits Albert Hash and Thornton Spencer as the main influences on her fiddling. “It’s such a treasure to have learned from Albert,” she says. Some of the first tunes she learned included “Whistling Rufus,” “Leather Britches,” and “Cumberland Gap.” She also learned to play clawhammer banjo from Emily Spencer.
Rita honed her skills playing for dances. She had been playing only a couple of years when she started performing with the Walnut Hill Old Time Band with her then husband, Arvill Scott and her Uncle Herbert. Arvill had recently opened a square dance and mountain music venue, the Mountain Music Jamboree, and the Walnut Hill Old Time Band was one of the house bands for the dances there. When Rita and Arvill divorced, Rita started playing with Susan Blevins Trianosky and Susan’s daughter Tina in an oldtime group they called the Appalachian Mountain Girls. Susan and Tina have since left the band, which now includes Amy Hauslonaer, Lynn Worth, and Kathrine Higgins. The band has been playing music for about eight years now at dances, festivals, parties, weddings, and other occasions that call for music. The group has a recording, and they continue to perform today.
Rita also plays at local jams and fills in with local and regional bands, such as the Grayson Highlands Band, with her old bandmates, Susan and Tina Trianosky. “When you’re a fiddler, you play with whoever asks you,” she says. Rita has also been teaching fiddle for a number of years, both privately and through the Junior Appalachian Musicians program teaching traditional mountain music to schoolchildren.
Rita works at McFarland Publishing Company in West Jefferson, but her music continues to be an active part of her life. Rita gives lessons to “anybody who takes an interest and wants to learn.” Albert Hash’s great-granddaughter is among fiddle players she has taught. She is available for performances with the Appalachian Mountain Girls.