Sheila Kay Adams
Sheila Kay Adams is the seventh-generation bearer of her family’s two-hundred-year-old ballad-singing tradition. Her teachers were her great-aunt Dellie Norton, cousin Cas Wallin, and other kinfolks in the Wallin, Chandler, Norton, Ramsey, and Ray families of Sodom, North Carolina, who have so long been admired by ballad singers and collectors. She has recorded prolifically and performed at dozens of venues and festivals in the United States and Great Britain. In 2013, she received the National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. The North Carolina Arts Council honored her with the prestigious North Carolina Heritage Award in 2015. In 2020, Sheila and her daughter, Melanie Rice Penland, were awarded the North Carolina Folklife Apprenticeship grant; follow their project here.
Bailee Brandon and Jerry Sutton
Bailee Brandon is 16 years old and has been playing fiddle since she was seven. She’s a fourth generation fiddler and enjoys playing fiddle with her grandad Jerry Sutton and performing locally. She’s learned many tunes from her fiddle teacher, Josh Goforth, through the Academy for the Arts at First Baptist Church Asheville. She also plays piano and is a member of the Asheville Youth Choir. Bailee is a sophomore at Enka High School, and loves teaching her dog Molly new tricks. Widely respected as a musician, Jerry Sutton is in the middle generation of a multigenerational family of musicians. He is the son of the late fiddler Grover Sutton, and the father of Leesa Sutton Brandon and Grammy Award-winning guitarist Bryan Sutton. Family and friends alike cite him as an important musical mentor. Among the many awards he has won are first place in guitar at the North Carolina Mountain State Fair, second place in guitar at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, and first place in bass at Fiddler’s Grove.
Jerry Sutton can be heard on recordings with his father, Grover Sutton, with the Hominy Valley String Band and the Pisgah Pickers, as well as with his son Bryan on Sugar Hill Records.
Bailey Mountain Cloggers
BMC were organized in 1974 by students at Mars Hill University (then college). The Bailey Mountain name is derived from the mountain adjacent to the college campus. This team carries on the tradition from an older championship team in Mars Hill called Bailey Mountain “Square” Dance Team. Today, the students who comprise the dance company, 25+ from 9 different states, come from various dance traditions, representing a number of ethnic and religious backgrounds. The Bailey Mountain Cloggers serve as ambassadors of goodwill for the college and the folk dance traditions of the Southern Mountains. During their 45-year history, the Bailey Mountain Cloggers have won 27 National Titles and performed throughout the United States and internationally in Canada, Mexico, England, Scotland, Austria, Ireland, Palma Mallorca Spain, Germany, England, France, Greece, Poland, Czech Republic, Colombia, and the Netherlands.The Bailey Mountain Cloggers Folk Dance Company has established a national and international reputation for American clog dance excellence.
Brooke Buckner plays the mountain music she grew up with in Western North Carolina, sharing her heritage through ballads, banjo tunes and handed down family traditions. Her family is from the Grapevine community in Madison county, and she now lives on a farm in the Jupiter community on the Buncombe and Madison county line.
Dee Dee Buckner
Dee Dee Buckner is an eighth-generation ballad singer from Madison County, who has carried on the tradition of her ballad-singing relatives, including her great-grandmother Dellie Norton and aunt Evelyn Ramsey. She is also the granddaughter of Morris Norton, banjo and tune bow player. She learned to clog around age 4 and at 8 was the youngest clogger for the Madison County 4-H clogging team. She is featured in the film The Madison County Project (2005) and will be sharing her family’s ballad tradition at this year’s ballad swap.
Sarah Buckner is a ninth-generation ballad singer from Madison County. She is carrying on the tradition of her ballad-singing family, including her mother, Dee Dee Buckner, and her aunts, Denise Norton O’Sullivan and Donna Ray Norton. She is the great-granddaughter of Morris Norton and the great-great granddaughter of Dellie Norton. Musically and artistically talented, Sarah performed at Ferrum College last year with her aunt Denise and also played the banjo in the Junior Appalachian Musicians Program (JAM) for four years. She also plays the guitar and ukulele and graduated from high school this year! Sarah will be sharing ballads at this year’s ballad swap.
Aarionna Blu Clackler
Aarionna Blu Clackler is one of the younger members of the Appalachian ballad singers from Western NC. She is a 9th generation ballad singer and comes from a long line of the more well-known musical families of the mountains in Madison County. She is the daughter of ballad singer Donna Ray Norton, granddaughter of singer Lena Jean Ray, cousin of Sheila Kay Adams and the great granddaughter to two of Madison County’s most renowned musicians, Byard Ray and Morris Norton. Aarionna has grown up listening to the old love songs mostly being sung by her mother and cousin, Melanie Rice Penland, as they travel around to different venues and states to perform. She has just recently decided that she would like to pursue ballad singing and carry on her family tradition. Aarionna has also traveled with her mother to California and sung during the Berkeley Old Time Music Festival in 2007 and most recently to Washington DC to perform. Aarionna will be sharing ballads at this year’s ballad swap.
Freeman has been a professional fiddler since he made his first radio appearance in 1950. He toured with Reno and Smiley and has also performed primarily in the Asheville area. Freeman is a native of Madison County, and learned many tunes from his brother, the late fiddler Gordon Freeman. Arvil’s fiddling developed into a distinctive personal style, known for its long-bow smoothness. He is a very influential teacher in the region, and has tutored young musicians, such as Josh Goforth, who cites Freeman as his greatest influence, and Emma and Bryan McDowell.
Throughout the 1980s Freeman played five nights a week in the Marc Pruett Band, at Bill Stanley’s Barbecue and Bluegrass in Asheville. In 1974, 1993, 1994, and 1995, he won the fiddle contest at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival. He was one of five fiddlers (with Benton Flippen, Audrey Hash Ham, Red Wilson, and Josh Goforth) chosen to represent the variety of traditional fiddle styles in North Carolina on UNC-TV’s Folkways series. Freeman has appeared on more than forty different albums, including five of Raymond Fairchild‘s records and two of the Crowe Brothers’.
The North Carolina Arts Council honored Arvil Freeman with the prestigious North Carolina Heritage Award in May, 2018.
Josh Goforth was already playing piano in church at the age of four, but it was an experience he had in the sixth grade that really lit the fuse of his precocious and explosive musical career. A performance at Goforth’s middle school by David Holt and Sheila Kay Adams caused him to start thinking about the musical heritage of his native Madison County. A couple of years later, he began to learn guitar from his great-uncle. The great-great-great-grandson of Madison County fiddler Asbury McDevitt was launched on a career in traditional and acoustic music. Over the next few years he learned to play at least ten different instruments by ear, learning from such local masters as Gordon Freeman and Arvil Freeman. In 2000, he played fiddle for the movie Songcatcher, both onscreen and on the soundtrack. He has performed all over the United States as well as Europe and Asia.
Peter Gott made Madison County his adopted home in the early 1960’s, when he performed regularly at the Jubilee Theater in Hot Springs, filling the hall each Saturday night, capturing the audience’s heart with his banjo and red suspenders, infectious smile and nimble dancing feet. Peter’s passion for the music of the area led him to seek out the true gems of the back hollers, learning tunes and ballads from Lee, Doug, Cas & Berzilla Wallin, Lloyd & Dillard Chandler, George Landers, Dellie Norton, Byard Ray, and others of their generation. In 1963 he introduced John Cohen to these friends and neighbors, and the result was two classic recordings: Love Songs & Ballads of Big Laurel (Folkways), and High Atmosphere (Rounder), which lured the next wave of folk musicians who flocked to Madison County. Peter and his wife Polly were a stopping point for artists from the north and from the west who wanted to soak up southern culture: The New Lost City Ramblers, Alice Gerrard & Hazel Dickens, Alan Lomax, Mike Seeger, David Holt…In the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, joined by Polly and children Susi & Tim, Peter headed up the Cowbell Hollow Stringband and toured the festival circuits before his focus shifted to teaching and building traditional hand-hewn log cabins. An inspiration to musicians, folklorists and back-to-the-landers alike, Peter still lives on Shelton Laurel, and can tell a savory story and pick a mean banjer!
Bryan McDowell (along with his sister, Emma) learned fiddle from Arvil Freeman, and went on to teach himself several more instruments. He is also an accomplished songwriter. Growing up, Bryan and Emma McDowell were part of a family band, and they represent the fourth generation of a family musical tradition. Their parents Steve and Donna are both musicians, and Donna’s grandfather and great-uncles performed and recorded in the 1940s as the South Florida Ranch Boys. Steve’s grandfather was a banjo player and a member of a mandolin orchestra in the 1920s and ’30s. Bryan will be sharing fiddle tunes at this year’s online fiddle circle.
Robert Lynn “Bobby” McMillon is an American treasure. A recipient of the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award and the Lunsford Award, McMillon has performed ballads, songs, and stories at festivals and events across the country, including the Smithsonian’s Festival of American Folklife, the A.P. Carter Memorial Festival, and the Festival for the Eno. From the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area: McMillon “was heir to numerous strands of Appalachian culture. From his father’s family in Coke County, TN, he learned Primitive Baptist hymns and traditional stories and ballads. From his mother’s people in Yancey and Mitchell counties (NC), he heard booger tales, haint tells, and legends.” For ten years he served in the Artist in the Schools and Visiting Artist programs and is featured in Tom Davenport’s film The Ballad of Frankie Silver. McMillon will be sharing ballads at this year’s online ballad swap.
Donna Ray Norton
It’s hard to imagine a deeper musical heritage than Donna Ray Norton’s. Hailing from Revere (also known as Sodom Laurel) in Madison County, she is an eight-generation ballad singer, the granddaughter of fiddler Byard Ray and Morris Norton, daughter of singer Lena Jean Ray, and cousin to Sheila Kay Adams and many other prominent Madison County musicians. Norton is a highly regarded member of the younger generation of Madison County ballad singers and storytellers. She was featured in the documentary Madison County Project and was recently featured on the Grammy-nominated album Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition. Norton has performed at several regional festivals and venues, the Berkeley (California) Old Time Music Convention, the North Carolina Museum of History, and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC. She received the Lunsford Award in 2005 and received the Key to the City of Hickory for her contributions to musical heritage. Norton will be sharing ballads at this year’s online ballad swap.
Denise Norton O’Sullivan
When Denise Norton spent a year living with her great-grandmother Dellie Norton, she saw in part what life had been like for her ballad-singing forbears, and why music played such a powerful and enduring role in their relatives’ lives. “Granny Dell” lived in a house with no running water and no television. “It was just like stepping in a time capsule,” Denise says, in the documentary Madison County Project. “People didn’t have all the TV and video games and stuff to baby-sit their kids. They had to entertain them other ways.” Though Denise grew up in a very different age, her family still made sure that she heard the old love songs as she grew up. She learned ballads from Dellie Norton and great-aunt Inez Chandler, and learned “knee-to-knee” from cousin Doug Wallin. She has performed at many North Carolina festivals and music events. Her CD Little Margaret was released in 2004, and a second CD, Black Is the Color, was released more recently and is dedicated to her grandparents. Denise received the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Youth Award in 2005. Denise will be sharing ballads at this year’s ballad swap.
Don Pedi is a Traditional Mountain Musician who started playing the dulcimer in 1968. Don is known for developing a playing style for the fretted mountain dulcimer that can match a fiddle, note for note, while maintaining the rhythms and characteristics of traditional music. Over the decades, he’s been recognized and honored for collecting, preserving and performing Traditional Appalachian music. Since 1985 Don has championed folk music as an on-air host at NPR affiliate Blue Ridge Public Radio WCQS 88.1 in Asheville, NC. His weekly show “Close to Home” airs on Saturdays, locally from 8:00-10:00pm (Eastern Time) and simultaneously streams on the web. Don has appeared in the motion pictures The Song Catcher and The Journey of August King, as well as a number of documentaries and music specials
Joe Penland was born and raised in rural Madison County. He is the proud steward of twelve generations and over 250 years of the rich oral tradition of his Scots and English ancestors. From birth, he has listened to and learned the stories and love songs these travelers brought with them across the ocean and then southwest to the narrow coves and high meadows of Southern Appalachia that many consider the richest repository of British folk songs in the world. In 2005, Penland received the Lunsford Award for his contributions to traditional music and song. Joe will be sharing ballads at this year’s ballad swap.
Lonesome Mountain Ears
Melanie Rice Penland
Born in 1971, eighth generation ballad singer Melanie Rice Penland was lucky enough to grow up in Sodom Laurel during the Folk Revival Movement of the 1970’s. Melanie has been singing on stage since the age of three and started singing ballads regularly at local festivals at the age of eight. Although Melanie has learned most of the ballads from her mother, Sheila Kay Adams, she was fortunate to have spent time with such ballad singers as Evelyn Ramsey, Brazil Wallin, Dellie Chandler Norton, and Cas Wallin. In 1994, Melanie Rice Penland graduated from Mars Hill University as one of the school’s first students to minor in Regional Studies (now Appalachian Studies), and later went on to receive an MA in Appalachian Studies from Appalachian State University. Melanie and her mother were just awarded the North Carolina Folklife Apprenticeship grant. Melanie will be sharing ballads at this year’s ballad swap.
Old Time Ramblers
The Old Time Ramblers are led by Roy Andrade, and are an old-time strong band from the Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country Music Program at East Tennessee State University.
Susan Pepper is a grassroots musician, performer and educator dedicated to sharing heartfelt songs old and new and building community through song. Her repertoire and performances are informed by her research with older mountain musicians and community members. Susan’s dynamic performances include unaccompanied ballads as well as songs with banjo, dulcimer and guitar. Most of her songs of tradition come from her work researching and learning from elders in western North Carolina. Above all, Susan loves to sing, and her voice naturally fits with the old style of mountain singing. She is also a songwriter, and her original music is inspired by tradition as well as stories of people past and present. An awareness of nature and the sacred that surrounds us infuses her compositions. Susan will be sharing ballads at this year’s ballad swap.
Rhiannon and the Relics
At age 18, (she began playing at 6) Rhiannon Ramsey is an in-demand western North Carolina musician — fiddling alongside local string band veterans who make up the Relics: Craig Bannerman (bass), Troy Harrison (banjo, guitar, mandolin, vocals), Scott Owenby (guitar, vocals). Her musicianship and comfort onstage, however, convey anything but newness. Instead, the Arvil Freeman protégé and her bandmates settle into their mountain-made tunes with ease. Rhiannon recently started a new chapter in her fiddling endeavors, replacing Arvil Freeman as the fiddler for the Stoney Creek Boys, the house band for Shindig on the Green and the Friday night barn dances in Montreat. She also plays with the Bandana Rhythm band and others who seek her out. Rhiannon lives on her family farm in Madison Co. NC.
Carol Rifkin + Friends
Carol Rifkin’s soaring voice shines, uniquely recognizable on stage, recordings or radio. Her performance invites you to the front porch and features regional songs, lively tunes and stories of their history. This award-winning singer, dancer, and multi-instrumentalist co-hosts WNCW’s mountain music show “This Old Porch” and more than 1,000 of her stories about Appalachian culture are published. An early member of the Green Grass Cloggers, Carol later worked with Tommy Jarrell, Doc Watson, David Holt, Dick Tarrier and more, and appeared in the movie Songcatcher and with Jarrell in Down Home, Appalachia to Nashville. Her work earned her Asheville’s 2013 Lunsford Award and Mars Hill University’s 2016 Lunsford Award . Besides performing at festivals and traditional events, Carol directs the French Broad Valley Music Association, hosts a weekly music session and loves to share her songs, music and dance.
John has been the Master of Ceremonies at the Lunsford Festival for many years. He also wears many hats with iHeartMedia but most often can be seen around the region in one of his trademark cowboy hats. John is host of the very popular Kiss Country Classics program, heard Sunday mornings from 8 until Noon on 99.9 Kiss Country in Asheville and the host of Saturday morning’s WESC Country Classics from 6 until 10am on 92.5 WESC in Greenville, South Carolina. John is also the producer and traffic reporter of First News On 570 WWNC with Mark Starling. John grew up in Western North Carolina, he knows the region and the people that live in these wonderful mountains. John and his wife, Delilah, make their home in Haywood County – as he likes to say “out in the country with nothing but corn fields and cattle farms.”’
Susi Gott Séguret
Fiddler, singer, songwriter, and Appalachian-style dancer Susi Gott Séguret hails from Madison County, where she grew up pioneer-style, in a log cabin without electricity or running water built by her father, Peter Gott. Throughout a 20-year stint of collaboration with European artists, Susi toured extensively in Europe, co-wrote the music for two televised films by Aline Isserman, and won the 1996 bluegrass division of the Christ Austin Songwriting Contest for her lyrics at MerleFest. Susi will be sharing ballads at this year’s online ballad swap and she may also make an appearance with her father at the banjo circle.
Amanda Southerland is a ninth-generation ballad singer from Madison County, who is carrying on the tradition of her ballad-singing relatives, including her mother, Dee Dee Buckner, and her aunts, Donna Ray Norton and Denise Norton O’Sullivan. She is the great-granddaughter of Morris Norton and the great-great grand daughter of Dellie Norton. Amanda grew up listening to her family sing at home and at festivals and she has always wanted to carry on the tradition. She appeared in The Madison County project when she was 15 and has shared songs at the Bluff Mountain Festival, the University of Chicago, and at the Lunsford Festival. Amanda will be sharing ballads at this year’s ballad swap.
Warren Wilson Old Time Band
The Warren Wilson Old Time Band is a string band from Warren Wilson College, led by musician and dancer Phil Jamison.