National Endowment for the Arts Presents Evening Concert Series, "NEA National Heritage Fellows of Appalachia"
Concerts presented during Smithsonian Folklife Festival
June 19, 2003
Washington, D.C. - The National Endowment for the Arts is pleased to present "NEA National Heritage Fellows of Appalachia," an evening concert series featuring 12 recipients of an NEA National Heritage Fellowship, the country's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.
Five different concerts will take place June 26, 27, 28 and July 3 and 5 as part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. All concerts will be held from 6:00 - 9:00 pm at the Harmony Stage on the Mall. Other fine musicians will join the Heritage Fellows in this celebration of music from the mountains and valleys of Appalachia. A detailed concert schedule and National Heritage Fellow biographies are attached.
When the National Endowment for the Arts initiated the National Heritage Fellows program in 1982, two of that first year's recipients were fiddler Tommy Jarrell from Mt. Airy, North Carolina, who played string band music, and mandolin player and composer Bill Monroe from Rosine, Kentucky, considered to be the father of bluegrass.
Since that inaugural year, 272 fellowships have been awarded, of which, 41 went to artists in the five-state Appalachian region of Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. The musical traditions, country, bluegrass, old-time string band, gospel, and folk, are an integral part of our nation's artistic heritage and musical present.
As part of its efforts to honor and preserve our nation's diverse cultural heritage, the National Endowment for the Arts annually awards National Heritage Fellowships for master folk and traditional artists. These fellowships are intended to recognize the recipients' artistic excellence and support their continuing contributions to our nation's traditional arts heritage. The selection criteria are authenticity, excellence, and significance within the particular artistic tradition. Fellowships originate with nominations from the public. The fellowship award is $20,000. The NEA National Heritage Fellows of Appalachia concert series is presented in collaboration with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance. This year's festival is the 37th annual folk gathering on the National Mall produced by the Smithsonian Institution's Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and co-sponsored by the National Park Service. The Birthplace of Country Music Alliance is located in Bristol, Tennessee and is dedicated to calling attention to the crucial role played by artists from East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and the southern Appalachian region in country, bluegrass, and other musical avenues that have been nurtured by this region.
Schedule of NEA National Heritage Fellows of Appalachia Concerts
All concerts are held 6:00 - 9:00 pm at the Harmony Stage on the National Mall.
National Heritage Fellows are in bold.
June 26, 2003
June 27, 2003
June 28, 2003
July 3, 2003
July 5, 2003
National Heritage Fellows Biographies
RALPH BLIZARD (2002 FELLOW)
Ralph Blizard is a legendary old-time fiddler, known for the long-bow method of playing so prevalent in the Appalachian region. He became a member of the Southern Ramblers at the age of 14, regularly appearing on an early morning radio show on WOPI, the "Voice of Appalachia." He continued to perform until 1955, when he gave up music to take a job with Tennessee Eastman to support his family. In 1980, he retired from the plant and once again took up fiddling, forming the New Southern Ramblers with members of the Green Grass Cloggers. He continues to perform, in addition to teaching and giving workshops, throughout the country. [See extended profile of Ralph Blizard on the web site.]
JOHN CEPHAS (1989 FELLOW)
John Cephas is a master of the Piedmont style of finger-picking, named for the region where the style of guitar playing originated. The Piedmont style involves alternating thumb- and finger-picking while keeping a constant bass line with the thumb. Cephas learned guitar by listening to old 78 rpm recordings of the blues, and was especially influenced by Blind Boy Fuller, Reverend Gary Davis, and Blind Lemon Jefferson. In the 1970s, he met harmonica player Phil Wiggins at a party in Washington, DC, and the pair have continued playing together nationally and internationally ever since.
CLYDE DAVENPORT (1992 FELLOW)
Clyde Davenport took an interest in music when he was just nine years old, making his own fiddle out of barn boards, with mule hair for bowstrings. The greatest musical influence on Davenport was the fiddle and banjo duo of Blind Dick Burnett and Leonard Rutherford, particularly Rutherford's long-bowing fiddle technique. Davenport's solo playing is in the traditional style of the Appalachian region, although he also includes quick-tempo breakdowns and blues in his repertoire. He knows more than 200 fiddle tunes, many of which are rare, that he learned from his father, grandfather, and older neighbors. In addition to playing, Davenport is also a renowned instrument maker and repairman.
HAZEL DICKENS (2001 FELLOW)
Hazel Dickens grew up in the coal-mining country of West Virginia, and the harsh conditions in which her family lived and worked deeply affected her and her art. In the 1960s, Dickens teamed up with another singer, Alice Gerrard, and together they brought a strong feminist viewpoint to traditional music. In the 1970s, Dickens pursued a solo career, where she acted as an advocate for the plight of coal miners. Her distinctive sound brings together the socially conscious songwriting abilities of Woody Guthrie, the singing skills of Kitty Wells, and the unadorned style of Baptist hymns she learned from her father.
WAYNE HENDERSON (1995 FELLOW)
Growing up in a remote area of the Blue Ridge Mountains, household items were hard to come by, so Wayne Henderson and his family often made what they needed themselves. This started Henderson on the way to becoming a master luthier, or maker of stringed instruments. Because of the high quality of his work, there are waiting lists of more than two years to obtain one of Henderson's beautiful, handcrafted guitars. Henderson is also an accomplished guitarist who has been featured on the "Masters of the Steel String Guitar" tour and has traveled internationally with the United States Information Agency.
JOHN DEE HOLEMAN (1988 FELLOW)
John Dee Holeman began picking guitar when he was 14, quickly learning the Piedmont-style blues songs he heard his uncle and cousin play. He also learned the tradition of "patting juba," the use of complex hand rhythms to provide timing for dancers, and the "buckdance," one of the dances performed to the juba rhythm. Holeman teamed up with Fris Holloway, an experienced "patter" and blues piano player, and the two performed together for years, including a U.S. Department of State tour of Southeast Asia. Although never pursuing music as a full-time profession, Holeman continues to perform music and dance at concerts and festivals around the country, as well as in Europe and Africa.
WILL KEYS (1996 FELLOW)
Will Keys was born into a large musical family, the tenth of eleven children, and began learning the banjo at eight years old. He learned the two-finger style, as opposed to the popular three-finger or claw-hammer styles, and played with his brothers in weekend jam sessions. In 1978, he won the old-time banjo contest at the prestigious Galax Fiddler's Convention. Despite his musical ability, he worked a full-time job at the Eastman Chemical Company for 42 years. After his retirement in 1984, Keys began performing more regularly, playing at folk festivals, and teaching workshops. Using his fingers rather than a pick to pluck the strings gives his banjo playing a distinctive sound with a bell-like tone.
JESSE McREYNOLDS (1997 FELLOW)
Jesse McReynolds and his brother Jim began playing together in the early 1940s and stayed together for more than 50 years, until Jim's death in December 2002. The McReynolds brothers had continued the musical tradition that their grandfather started when he played on the original Bristol Sessions of 1927. With Jesse on mandolin and Jim on guitar, their distinctive harmony singing-learned from their mother-set them apart from other Appalachian bands of the era. In the early 1950s, Jesse developed a mandolin cross-picking technique, creating a banjo-like syncopation effect, that was soon widely imitated by his peers. He continues to perform the bluegrass music that has been such an important part of his life.
JEAN RITCHIE (2002 BESS LOMAX HAWES AWARD)
Jean Ritchie was the youngest of 14 children, growing up in the Cumberland Mountains of eastern Kentucky. After graduating from college, she moved to New York City, where she worked at the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side, teaching children folk songs, ballads, and singing games. During this time, noted folklorist Alan Lomax recorded her playing the lap dulcimer for the Library of Congress and arranged her first formal concert at Columbia University. Besides writing such classics as "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore," Ritchie has also written books about folk music, including the highly regarded Singing Family of the Cumberlands.
RALPH STANLEY (1984 FELLOW)
Ralph Stanley was born in Virginia's Clinch Mountains, which have inspired much of his music. He and his brother Carter learned ballad singing and claw-hammer-style banjo playing from their mother, and they began performing together in the 1940s, gathering a following from their broadcasts on WCYB in Bristol, Virginia. In 1966, Carter died, and after much consideration, Ralph continued his musical career and formed a new band. He helped bring about a revival of a cappella singing in contemporary bluegrass, continuing the tradition he learned from his mother. There has been a resurgent interest in Stanley's music after some of his performances were used on the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, released in 2000.
JOSEPH WILSON (2001 BESS LOMAX HAWES AWARD)
Joseph Wilson has had a lifelong interest in music, producing records by musicians in his hometown of Trade, Tennessee before joining the National Council for the Traditional Arts - then called the National Folk Festival Association - in 1976. As executive director of the nonprofit organization, a title he still holds, he directs its activities, such as producing the internationally renowned National Folk Festival; conducting research in folklore, ethnography, and related areas; assisting the National Park Service with planning and interpretation; and producing films, recordings, museum exhibits, and publications. He is also a founding member of the Fund for Folk Culture, and has served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts and on the grants panels of four state arts agencies.
Please see a listing of all Heritage recipients.
For more information, contact the NEA Office of Communications at 202-682-5570.
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