Loyal Jones Appalachian Center

CTM Performers

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Performers at the 2014 Celebration of Traditional Music include . . .

Sheila Kay Adams (The L. Allen Smith Performer)

Sheila Kay AdamsA seventh-generation ballad singer, storyteller, and claw-hammer banjo player, Sheila Kay Adams was born and raised in the Sodom Laurel community of Madison County, North Carolina. Adams learned to sing from her great-aunt Dellie Chandler Norton and other notable singers in the community such as, Dillard Chandler and the Wallin Family. Adams has performed at the acclaimed International Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee, the 1976 and 2003 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and many other festivals around the US and the United Kingdom. She has recorded several albums: My Dearest Dear (2000), All The Other Fine Things (2004), and Live at the International Storytelling Festival (2007). She appeared in the movies Last of the Mohicans (1992) and Songcatcher (2000), a movie for which she also served as technical advisor and singing coach. Adams’ devotion to preserving and perpetuating her heritage earned her the North Carolina Folklore Society’s Brown-Hudson Award, and in 2013 she received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.

Comer “Moon” and Theda Mullins

Moon and Theda MullinsComer “Moon” and Theda Mullins perform a variety of old time/traditional and gospel music, in addition to some original work. Both of them singer-songwriters, the couple met at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas, where they performed for over twenty years, and still occasionally perform today. They performed at the North Carolina Thumbpickers Convention in Statesville in February 2014, and at the Chet Atkins Appreciation event in Nashville in July 2014. A multi-instrumentalist and member of the National Thumbpickers’ Hall of Fame, Moon has performed with Pee Wee King, Faron Young, and Connie Smith of the Country Music Hall of Fame, folk-star Iris Dement, and Honky-Tonk heroes Darrell McCall and Johnny Paycheck. Through the years Moon has developed a highly distinctive thumbpicking style, a combination of Merle Travis thumbpicking technique, blues, and ragtime.

Sparky and Rhonda Rucker

Sparky and Rhonda RuckerSparky and Rhonda Rucker have performed together in the American folk tradition of music and storytelling since 1989. Sparky has been performing over forty years and is an internationally recognized as a leading folklorist, musician, historian, storyteller, and author. He accompanies himself with fingerstyle picking and bottleneck blues guitar, banjo, and spoons. Rhonda Rucker is a musician, children’s author, storyteller, and songwriter, and plays blues-style harmonica, piano, old time banjo, and bones. They have performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., the International Storytelling Center and Festival, at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and on NPR’s On Point, Prairie Home Companion, Mountain Stage, and Morning Edition. In 2009, Sparky and Rhonda appeared on the Grammy-nominated CD, Singing Through the Hard Times, and their 1991 album Treasures and Tears was nominated for the W.C. Handy Award for Best Traditional Recording. Their latest releases include the CD Let Freedom Ring and Rhonda’s debut novel, Swing Low, Sweet Harriet.

Sue Massek

Sue Massek photoSue Massek writes and performs music for social justice. As a member of the Reel World String Band from its beginning in 1977, Massek has toured throughout the US, Canada, and Italy. She apprenticed to several legendary old time banjo players, including Lily May Ledford, Blanche Coldiron and Clyde Davenport. She has recently expanded her repertoire to include a one-woman play written by Si Kahn about the life of Sarah Organ Gunning, a singer-songwriter from the Eastern Kentucky coalfields during the Bloody Harlan era. Massek is currently serving as a Master Artist in Kentucky’s Folklife Program, teaching old time banjo and songwriting. She has two solo recording projects: Brave is the Heart of a Singing Bird, which is a tribute to those people who influenced her music and activism, and Searching for Shady Grove.

Kanawha Tradition (Bobby Taylor, Kim Johnson, Jesse Pearson)

Kanawha Tradition, an old time band from the Charleston – Huntington area of West Virginia, consists of members Bobby Taylor, Kim Johnson, and Jesse Pearson. Leader Bobby Taylor is a fourth generation fiddler from Dunbar, West Virginia. A melting pot of old-time fiddle styles, Taylor has been influenced by fiddlers Clark Kessinger and Mike Humphreys, and has performed in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and internationally in Germany, Ireland, and Australia. Kim Johnson is from Clendenin, West Virginia, and has been playing banjo since 1978. Johnson learned old time music from well-known West Virginia fiddler Wilson Douglas, and has recorded with both him and fiddler Lester McCumbers. Jesse Pearson of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, plays guitar, banjo, and fiddle, and learned old time music from fiddler Terry Vaughan and from recordings of Lester McCumbers, Ernie Carpenter, Melvin Wine, and the Hammons family. Pearson also performs at festivals and music gatherings with his high-energy, old time band, the Modock Rounders.

James Leva, Danny Knicely, Riley Baugus, &  Ira Bernstein


L-R: Ira Bernstein, James Leva, Riley Baugus, & Danny Knicely

James Leva, of Rockbridge County, Virginia, is a fiddler, singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who began playing traditional Appalachian music as a teenager. From musicians Tommy Jarrell and Doug Wallin, James gained an appreciation and respect for mountain music and culture. He explores the Celtic and African roots of this music through projects with Irish guitarist John Doyle and Mande musicians such as Cheick Hamala Diabate and Bassekou Kouyate. Leva has also experimented with blending traditional and contemporary music with multiple bands, including his current band, Purgatory Mountain. Leva has written and performed a play, “A Kindly Visitation”, based on visits to traditional fiddler Tommy Jarrell (1901-1985). He has performed at many festivals across North America and Europe, including Telluride, Merlefest, RockyGrass, Strawberry, Wheatlands, Grey Fox, Tonder, and Nyon. Recently Leva has performed at Aulnay All Blues, outside of Paris, and in Tunisia and Morocco on a tour sponsored by the US State Department.

Danny Knicely comes from a musical family steeped in a mountain music tradition for generations. He first learned music from his grandfather, A.O. Knicely, who has been playing dances and social events in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia since the 1930s. Knicely has used his roots in old time and bluegrass to explore various types of music in the US and from around the world. He has shared his music and collaborated with musicians in nearly a dozen countries spanning four continents, including US State Department tours in Tunisia and Morocco. As a multi-instrumentalist, Knicely has won many awards for his mandolin, guitar, fiddle, and flatfooting expertise, including first place in the mandolin contest at the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

Riley Baugus of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, started playing banjo at the age of 10, inspired by the traditional Appalachian music that he heard in his family’s community in the Blue Ridge Mountains and on the records played and cherished by his family. He learned from old time music masters, such as Tommy Jarrell, Dix Freeman, and Robert Sykes. Baugus has played with numerous old time string bands, including The Red Hots and the Old Hollow Stringband, and currently plays with Dirk Powell and Old Buck, and with Ira Bernstein. He built the banjos that appear in the Academy Award winning film “Cold Mountain,” and his singing features on the soundtrack. Baugus’s work also features on the Grammy Award winning recording by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand, and the Willie Nelson release, Country Music. Baugus has toured throughout the US, Canada, Europe and recently in Australia.

Born and raised in the suburbs of New York City, Ira Bernstein began playing the fiddle and dancing traditional Appalachian clogging and flatfooting as a college student in 1978 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His earliest group experiences were as a member of the Mill Creek Cloggers, and the Marlboro Morris and Sword team. Bernstein has performed in concerts and at festivals all across the US and Canada, as well as in 16 other countries across Europe and Asia. He has also repeatedly won first place in the Mount Airy Fiddler’s Convention old time flatfooting competition. Bernstein has shared the stage with many of the world’s greatest tap and step dancers, including Gregory Hines, Savion Glover, Honi Coles, Jimmy Slyde, and Chuck Green, and has appeared numerous times on television and in theatrical productions.

The Leestown String Band

The Leestown String BandThe Leestown String Band is Dan Atkins (vocals, guitar), Jim Webb (vocals, banjo), and Robb Cabe (upright bass).  The group will feature guest fiddler John Harrod (of Owen County) quite often through 2014 and most notably for their appearance at Berea’s Annual Celebration of Traditional Music.  These musicians share a common interest in Old Time, Blues and Bluegrass Styles from the Southeastern U.S. with a primary focus on Kentucky.  Two members Dan and Robb hail from Frankfort, where they have been involved in making music all their lives.  Jim Webb, also from Frankfort (by way of Martin County), Kentucky, comes from a long line of traditional musicians.  The four come together to bring you their brand of Kentucky roots music.

Davis & Elkins College Appalachian Ensemble

Davis and Elkins ensembleThe Davis & Elkins Appalachian Ensemble presents traditional music and dance from the Appalachian region and beyond, focusing on the intersections of different American Vernacular forms and their roots, ranging from old time music and flatfooting to jazz music and tap dance, to Irish sean nós dance and numerous traditional American styles of harmony singing. 



Winner of the Homer Ledford Award: Frank Neat.







The CTM is partially supported by the L. Allen Smith Memorial Fund 

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