Bascom Lamar Lunsford

Bascom Lamar Lunsford (March 21, 1882 – September 4, 1973) was a lawyer, folklorist, and performer of traditional (folk and country) music from western North Carolina. He was often known by the nickname "Minstrel of the Appalachians."

Bascom Lamar Lunsford
BornMarch 21, 1882
DiedSeptember 4, 1973 (aged 91)
Other namesMinstrel of the Appalachians
Alma materRutherford College
Occupationfolklorist, lawyer
Spouse(s)Nellie Triplett
Parent(s)James Bassett Lunsford, Luarta Leah Buckner


Bascom Lamar Lunsford was born at Mars Hill, Madison County, North Carolina in 1882, into the world of traditional Appalachian folk music. At an early age, his father, a teacher, gave him a fiddle, and his mother sang religious songs and traditional ballads. Lunsford also learned banjo and began to perform at weddings and square dances.[1]

After qualifying as a teacher at Rutherford College, Lunsford taught at schools in Madison County. In 1913, Lunsford qualified in law at Trinity College, later to become Duke University. He began to travel and collect material at the start of the 20th century, often meeting singers on isolated farms. Lunsford has been quoted as saying he spent "nights in more homes from Harpers Ferry to Iron Mountain than God".[2]

Appalachian music

Lunsford gave lectures and performances while dressed in a starched white shirt and black bow tie. This formal dress was part of his campaign against the stereotyping of “hillbillies”.[2]

In 1922 Frank C. Brown, a song collector, recorded 32 items on wax cylinders from Bascom. In 1928, Lunsford recorded "Jesse James" and "I Wish I Was a Mole In the Ground" for the Brunswick record label. Harry Smith included "Mole" on his Anthology of American Folk Music in 1952. Smith's anthology also includes Lunsford's performance of the gospel song "Dry Bones", recorded in 1928.

Lunsford played in a style from Western North Carolina, which had a rhythmic up-stroke brushing the strings. It sounds similar to clawhammer banjo playing, which emphasises the downstroke. He also played a "mandoline", an instrument with mandolin body and a five-string banjo neck. He occasionally played fiddle for dance tunes such as "Rye Straw". He censored himself, avoiding obscene songs or omitting verses. His repertoire included Child Ballads, negro spirituals and parlor songs. A CD collection of Lunsford's recordings, from the Brunswick recordings of the 1920s to the recordings for the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress in 1949, Ballads, Banjo Tunes and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina, was released by Smithsonian Folkways Records in 1996.[3]

The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival

In 1927 the Asheville Chamber of Commerce organized a 'Rhododendron Festival' to encourage tourism. The Chamber asked Lunsford to invite local musicians and dancers. 1928 was the first year of the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, often claimed as the first event to be described as a "Folk Festival". After a few years the rhododendron element disappeared but the festival continues to this day. He was the organiser and performed there every year until he suffered a stroke in 1965.[2]

Lunsford cofounded the Bascom Lamar Lunsford "Minstrel of Appalachia" Festival that is in its 47th year, taking place at Lunsford's birthplace at Mars Hill University in Mars Hill, North Carolina, just 20 minutes north of Asheville.

Politics and fame

Bascom was involved in the politics of the Democratic Party. He managed the campaign for Congressman Zebulon Weaver for North Carolina. From 1931 to 1934 he was a reading clerk of the North Carolina House of Representatives. Charles Seeger employed him in the mid-30s to promote singers in "Skyline Farms", as part of the "New Deal". Lunsford was invited to the White House by President Roosevelt in 1939, when he performed his music for King George VI.[1] Lunsford died on 4 September 1973.[4]


In 1964, the North Carolina fantasy and horror writer Manly Wade Wellman dedicated his book "Who Fears the Devil?" to Lunsford. Wellman's fictional protagonist, Silver John, was an Appalachian folk singer, like Lunsford.

Bob Dylan, who listened to the Anthology of American Folk Music, echoed a line from "I Wish I Was a Mole In the Ground." Lunsford sang, "'Cause a railroad man they'll kill you when he can / And drink up your blood like wine," which is echoed by Dylan's line "Mona tried to tell me / To stay away from the train line / She said that all the railroad men / Just drink up your blood like wine" on his song "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again", recorded in 1966 for the album Blonde on Blonde.[5]

Greil Marcus discussed the meaning of "I Wish I Was a Mole In the Ground" both in his liner notes to Bob Dylan and The Band's album, The Basement Tapes (1975), and in his book Lipstick Traces.[5]

Lunsford's original recording of "Good Old Mountain Dew" was used as the first advertising theme for the newly created Mountain Dew soda. He sold the rights to the song for a train ticket home.

In 1964 Lunsford was the subject of a documentary film, shot with a 16mm hand held camera, by New York City filmmaker, David Hoffman.


  • Song and Ballads of American History and of the Assassination of American Presidents (1952)
  • Smokey Mountain Ballads (1953) (Folkways)
  • Minstrel of the Appalachians (1956) (Riverside: RLP 12-645)
  • Bascom Lamar Lunsford (1956) (Riverside)
  • Music from South Turkey Creek (1976) (Rounder Records)
  • Ballads, Banjo Tunes and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina (1996) (Smithsonian Folkways)


  1. ^ a b Smith, Alexander (April 18, 2010). ""Dry Bones" - Bascom Lamar Lunsford, "The Minstrel of the Appalachians"". Anthology of American Folk Music Blog. Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c Harris, Craig (March 8, 2009). "Bascom Lamar Lunsford biography". Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  3. ^ "Ballads, Banjo Tunes and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina". Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  4. ^ Jones, Minstrel, pp. 111-112, 138.
  5. ^ a b Marcus, Greil (1989). Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. p. 16. ISBN 0-674-53580-4.


  • Loyal Jones, Minstrel of the Appalachians: The Story of Bascom Lamar Lunsford (Appalachian Consortium Press, 1984; Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2002). ISBN 978-0-8131-9027-3

External links

Anthology of American Folk Music

The Anthology of American Folk Music is a six-album compilation released in 1952 by Folkways Records (catalogue FP 251, FP 252, and FP 253), comprising eighty-four American folk, blues and country music recordings that were originally issued from 1927 to 1932.

Experimental film maker Harry Smith compiled the music from his personal collection of 78 rpm records. The album is famous due to its role as a touchstone for the American folk music revival in the 1950s and 1960s. The Anthology was released for compact disc by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings on August 19, 1997.

Appalachian music

Appalachian music is the music of the region of Appalachia in the Eastern United States. It is derived from various European and African influences, including English ballads, Irish and Scottish traditional music (especially fiddle music), hymns, and African-American blues. First recorded in the 1920s, Appalachian musicians were a key influence on the early development of Old-time music, country music, and bluegrass, and were an important part of the American folk music revival of the 1960s. Instruments typically used to perform Appalachian music include the banjo, American fiddle, fretted dulcimer, and guitar.Early recorded Appalachian musicians include Fiddlin' John Carson, G. B. Grayson & Henry Whitter, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, the Carter Family, Clarence Ashley, and Dock Boggs, all of whom were initially recorded in the 1920s and 1930s. Several Appalachian musicians obtained renown during the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s, including Jean Ritchie, Roscoe Holcomb, Ola Belle Reed, Lily May Ledford, Hedy West and Doc Watson. Country and bluegrass artists such as Loretta Lynn, Roy Acuff, Dolly Parton, Earl Scruggs, Chet Atkins, The Stanley Brothers and Don Reno were heavily influenced by traditional Appalachian music.

Bascom (name)

Bascom is both a surname and a given name. Notable people with the name include:


Bernadette Bascom (born 1962), American R&B singer, actress

Earl W. Bascom (1906–1995), American-Canadian artist, inventor, rodeo cowboy, Mormon Bishop

Emma Curtiss Bascom (1828-1916), American educator, suffragist and reformer

Florence Bascom (1862–1945), American geologist

George Nicholas Bascom (1837-1862), U.S. Army officer who arrested Chief Cochise, igniting the Apache Wars

Henry Bidleman Bascom (1796–1850), American religious leader, Congressional Chaplain, Methodist Bishop

Jeremy Bascom (born 1981), Guyana sprinter

John Bascom (1827–1911), American educator, author, President of the University of Wisconsin

John L. Bascom (1860-1950), American lawyer, Iowa state legislator

John U. Bascom (1925-2013), American surgeon and researcher

Kerry Bascom, American retired professional women's basketball player

Marion C. Bascom (1925-2012), American religious leader, civil-rights activist

Oliver Bascom (1815–1869), American businessman, Erie Canal Commissioner

Rose Flanders Bascom (1880-1915), America's first female lion tamer

Ruth Bascom (1926-2010), American politician, mayor of Eugene, Oregon

Ruth Henshaw Bascom (1772-1848), American folk artist

Willard Bascom (1916-2000), American engineer, oceanographer, underwater archaeologist

William Bascom (1912–1981), American anthropologist, folklorist, ethnologistGiven name:

Bascom Sine Deaver (1882-1944), U.S. Federal judge

Bascom Sine Deaver, Jr. (born 1930), American physicist, professor

Bascom Giles (1900-1993), American, Texas land commissioner

Bascom Ray Lakin (1901–1984), American evangelical preacher

Bascom Lamar Lunsford (1882–1973), American folklorist, musician, author of song "Good Old Mountain Dew"

Bascom Joseph Rowlett (1886-1947), American architect

Bascom N. Timmons (1890-1987), American newspaperman

John Bascom Crenshaw (1861-1942), American college athletic director, founder of Georgia Tech's lacrosse team

Asbury Bascom Davidson (1855-1920), American lawyer, Lt. Governor of Texas

Harold Bascom Durham, Jr. (1942-1967), American recipient of the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War

Campbell Bascom Slemp (1870–1943), American Congressman, secretary to President Calvin Coolidge

Wilford Bascom "Pitchfork" Smith (1884-1939), American muckraking publisher in Missouri and Texas

George Bascom Sparkman (1855-1896}, American lawyer, mayor of Tampa, Florida

George Bascom Sparkman, Jr. (1886-1924), American football player and coach

Henry Bascom Steagall (1873-1843), American politician

Lester Bascom Wikoff (1844-1978), American educator, Rotarian

John Bascom Wolfe, (1904-1988), American psychologist

Ashley Bascom Wright (1841-1897), American politician

Charles Guiteau (song)

"Charles Guiteau" (LAWS E11) Roud 444 is a traditional song about the assassination of US President James A. Garfield by Charles J. Guiteau. It is based on another old ballad, "James A. Rogers". The song is told from the point of view of the assassin himself.For a while, it was believed that Guiteau wrote the song himself, possibly because of the poem "I am Going to the Lordy", which Guiteau actually did write on the day of his execution.It is not to be confused with another ballad about the assassination, "Mr. Garfield," which was popularized by Johnny Cash. Bascom Lamar Lunsford recorded both songs in 1949 for the Library of Congress.

Country Turtle Records

Country Turtle Records was an independent American record label set up in the 1970s in New York City by Don Kent. The label specialized in early American old time and country music.

Like its sister label Mamlish Records in the blues field, the label was active re-issuing samplers and single artists' albums of prewar recordings, first released as Shellac 78 rpm records. Country Turtle was the first label to release the Dixon Brothers' prewar material on vinyl. The sampler Gambler's Lament consisted of prewar recordings of artists as varied as Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Posey Rorer and the North Carolina Ramblers, Blind Andy, and Rabbit Brown.

Cumberland Gap (folk song)

"Cumberland Gap" is an Appalachian folk song that likely dates to the latter half of the 19th century and was first recorded in 1924. The song is typically played on banjo or fiddle, and well-known versions of the song include instrumental versions as well as versions with lyrics. A version of the song appeared in the 1934 book, American Ballads and Folk Songs, by folk song collector John Lomax. Woody Guthrie recorded a version of the song at his Folkways sessions in the mid-1940s, and the song saw a resurgence in popularity with the rise of bluegrass and the American folk music revival in the 1950s. In 1957, the British musician Lonnie Donegan had a No. 1 UK hit with a skiffle version of "Cumberland Gap".The song's title refers to the Cumberland Gap, a mountain pass in the Appalachian Mountains at the juncture of the states of Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky. The gap was used in the latter half of the 18th century by westward-bound migrants travelling from the original 13 American colonies to the Trans-Appalachian frontier. During the U.S. Civil War (1861–1865), Union and Confederate armies engaged in a year-long back-and-forth struggle for control of the gap.

Dry Bones (folk song)

"Dry Bones" is a folk song, included in Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music under the heading "Social Music". On this collection it is sung by Bascom Lamar Lunsford.

Fleming Brown

Fleming Brown, (December 19, 1926 – 1984), born in Marshall, Missouri. He was a banjo player and one of the early teachers at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music. As an artist, Brown specialized in traditional songs of the Southern Appalachians. He was influenced by old-time banjo players such as Uncle Dave Macon and Dock Boggs. Brown supported himself as a graphic artist and as such never performed widely outside of Chicago.Brown learned the banjo from Doc Hopkins, an old-time singer who hosted a morning radio show on WLS in Chicago. He would have his lesson at the studio after the show daily. As a banjo player Brown traveled much learning technique from other banjo players like Doc Hopkins, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Grandpa Jones, Hobart Smith, Frank Proffitt. In 1963 Brown recorded the banjo player Hobart Smith for a record released as The 1963 Fleming Brown Tapes.

In 1953 he joined the "I Come for to Sing" group with Studs Terkel, Larry Lane, Chet Roble and Big Bill Broonzy. Also in that year, he hosted a folk music radio show on Chicago's WFMT which was entitled "The Midnight Special" since it began at midnight on Saturdays.At the Old Town School, Brown mentored banjoist Stephen Wade who eventually took over teaching Fleming's class in 1974.

Fleming has performed at the Asheville, North Carolina, Festival, the Newport Folk Festival, and the University of Chicago Folk Festival.

Good Old Mountain Dew

"Good Old Mountain Dew" (ROUD 18669), sometimes called simply "Mountain Dew" or "Real Old Mountain Dew", is an Appalachian folk song composed by Bascom Lamar Lunsford and Scotty Wiseman. There are two versions of the lyrics, a 1928 version written by Lunsford and a 1935 adaptation by Wiseman. Both versions of the song are about moonshine. The 1935 version has been widely covered and has entered into the folk tradition becoming a standard.

I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground

I Wish I Was a Mole In the Ground is a traditional American folk song. It was most famously recorded by Bascom Lamar Lunsford in 1928 for Brunswick Records in Ashland, Kentucky. Harry Smith included "Mole" on his Anthology of American Folk Music released by Folkways Records in 1952. The notes for Smith's Anthology state that Lunsford learnt this song from Fred Moody, a North Carolina neighbor in 1901.

Jesse James (folk song)

"Jesse James" is a 19th-century American folk song about the outlaw of the same name, first recorded by Bentley Ball in 1919 and subsequently by many others, including Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Vernon Dalhart, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio, The Pogues, The Ramblin' Riversiders, The Country Gentlemen, Willy DeVille, Van Morrison, Grandpa Jones, Bob Seger, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (on the Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy album), Sons of the Pioneers, Johnny Cash, and Bruce Springsteen. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.

Mountain Dance and Folk Festival

The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, held annually in Asheville, North Carolina, is the oldest continuously running folk festival in the United States.

Old-Timey Concert

Old-Timey Concert is the title of a live recording by American folk music artist Doc Watson, Clint Howard and Fred Price. Originally a "Double LP", now one CD with four tracks omitted: Tracks 8, 15, 16 and 19.Recorded in 1967 for the Seattle Folklore Society.

Rattlesnake Mountain (song)

"Rattlesnake Mountain" is a traditional American folk song derived from one of the earliest known American ballads, "On Springfield Mountain". It is based on the events surrounding the death by snakebite of Timothy Merrick (or Mirick) on August 7, 1761.

Symphonic outdoor drama

The symphonic outdoor drama is a kind of historical play, set outdoors on the very site depicted in account. It combines music, dance, and drama in a unique way to tell the story.

It is most like historical pageantry performed in Europe in the Middle Ages. The best known example of a religious pageant in this style is at Oberammergau, Germany. Many big, spectacular stage events became popular in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These pageants were not exactly plays, but they showed a series of scenes in which historical events followed one another.

The pageants leading up to the 1937 production of The Lost Colony were influenced by the event at Oberammergau. People in eastern North Carolina were encouraged to share the history of the lost colony of Roanoke - which had been largely forgotten. The residents of Roanoke Island thought that staging a pageant themselves would share the story with the world.

Southern playwright and Lost Colony author Paul Green had a lifelong fascination with theatrical elements, such as dance, language, music, and lighting, and a desire for drama to make a difference in American social life. Under the tutelage of Frederick Koch, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Green was deeply influenced by his ideas about “folk drama” and a concern for ordinary people and their experiences. He was also a close collaborator with musician Lamar Stringfield who published a book of arrangements of Appalachian folk songs with Bascom Lamar Lunsford in 1929 and founded the Institute of Folk Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1930. Stringfield provided the original music for the Lost Colony.

"By 'people's theatre', I mean theatre in which plays are written, acted and produced for and by the people for their enjoyment and enrichment and not for any special monetary profit."Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Green wrote those words about The Lost Colony in 1938, a year after its debut. By then, America's first outdoor symphonic drama was a critical and popular success, proof that "people's theatre" could work. But it wasn't always a guaranteed success.

In addition to receiving the 1927 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his Broadway play In Abraham's Bosom — remarkable for the time in its serious depiction of the plight of African Americans in the South — Green created and spread this new dramatic form.

The Miller's Three Sons

"The Miller's Three Sons" (Roud 138, Laws Q21) is an English folk song. It was published as a broadside in the middle of the 18th century CE, but no more recent printings are known. It was "reasonably widespread in England but hugely popular in North America".

Who Fears the Devil?

Who Fears the Devil? is a collection of fantasy and horror short stories by American author Manly Wade Wellman. It was released in 1963 by Arkham House in an edition of 2,058 copies and was Wellman's only book released by Arkham House. The collection consists of all of Wellman's Silver John stories that had been published at the time. They had all previously appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Wellman contributed new short sketches to the collection. The book is dedicated to Wellman's friend, the North Carolina folkorist and musician Bascom Lamar Lunsford.

Darrell Schweitzer has described the book as a classic of fantasy literature, stating Who Fears The Devil?

"has genuinely enriched the field because of its unique subject matter and Wellman's heartfeld enthusiasm for


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