Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Minstrel of the Appalachians

Minstrel of the Appalachians: The Story of Bascom Lamar Lunsford

Loyal Jones
Music transcribed by John M. Forbes
Copyright Date: 1984
Edition: 1
Pages: 272
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Minstrel of the Appalachians
    Book Description:

    It is said that Bascom Lamar Lunsford would "cross hell on a rotten rail to get a folk song" -- his Southern highlands folk-song compilations now constitute one of the largest collections of its kind in the Library of Congress -- but he did much more than acquire songs. He preserved and promoted the Appalachian mountain tradition for generations of people, founding in 1928 the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville, North Carolina, an annual event that has shaped America's festival movement. Loyal Jones pens a lively biography of a man considered to be Appalachian music royalty. He also includes a "Lunsford Sampler" of ballads, songs, hymns, tales, and anecdotes, plus a discography of his recordings.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4882-3
    Subjects: History, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Leonard Roberts

    From about 1880, articles, books, short stories, and novels have been written about Appalachia by journalists, local color writers, and missionaries from the outside. These papers have been too general, or too colored, or too specialized to reveal the delicate, complex folkways and lifestyles of the “natives.” At worst they have established no more about the mountain people than cliches, stereotypes, and surface observations. By the 1920s some rather acceptable but sweeping studies had come forward, but, in the main, cliches were burned in to the bone. So late as the 1970s I read inThe New York Timesa...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    I first met Bascom Lunsford in 1956 at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh, but I did not have a reason to communicate with him again until I became director of the Berea College Appalachian Center in 1970. Then I wrote to invite Mr. Lunsford to come and perform a concert at the college. Within days I received a telephone call: “This is Bascom Lamar Lunsford. Why, I canʼt come up there. Iʼm eighty-nine years old. You come to see me.” And so I did. In his apartment in West Asheville I spent an afternoon interviewing and visiting with...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Mountain Bred
    (pp. 1-10)

    To use a mountain saying, Bascom Lamar Lunsford would cross hell on a rotten rail to get a folk song. But folk songs were only a part of his calling and of the magic that he sought and used for a larger purpose. Across that precarious rail, Lunsford viewed Appalachian culture and identity that were being uprooted by the irrevocable push of progress.

    The people of the Southern Appalachian Mountains are among the most old-fashioned and thus traditional In the country. The great treasure of ballads, songs and tales that the settlers brought from the British Isles and the continent...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Personal and Vocational Ventures
    (pp. 11-26)

    Bascom Lunsford was a restless spirit, with more interests than time. He worked hard to be practical, though, at least for a while. He started out to be a schoolteacher, but then he became a nursery salesman, bee and honey promoter, went back to college, served as a supervisor of boys at a school for the deaf, breezed through law school, practiced law, became county solicitor, college teacher, a newspaper editor, war bond salesman, Justice Department agent, newspaper publisher, church field secretary, New Deal programs worker, reading clerk of the North Carolina House of Representatives, and also a performing artist,...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Real Calling
    (pp. 27-50)

    The decade of the 1920s finished the shaping of Lunsford Into a collector, performer and promoter of the folk arts, and It brought the call to service.

    He never knew for sure just what had started him on his unusual primary career as a singer, instrumentalist, dancer, folklorist and festival promoter. He thought it might have been his mother, “a blue-eyed girl who sang as spontaneously as the mountain daisies bloom.” His father undoubtedly had an influence, for he was lover of fiddle music and would occasionally hum tunes and even break into song, and he had certainly encouraged his...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Fulfillment
    (pp. 51-88)

    The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, and similar programs which Lunsford arranged, became his leading and consuming interest for the rest of his life. The festival was not just a program that he organized by writing a few letters and then managed as master of ceremonies. He worked at the festival the year round, always on the lookout for additional authentic talent. He scoured the mountains of Western North Carolina in a successsion of battered Nashes and Hudsons, driving absent-mindedly, perhaps with his mind on more important things, until stories of his driving mishaps became as well-known as his singing....

  9. CHAPTER 5 Mostly Personal
    (pp. 89-116)

    When Harold H. Martin wrote inThe Saturday Evening Postthat Bascom “walks all reared back …. stands all reared back, like a man of substance.. with dignity,” he captured Lunsford’s personal appearance as well as it can be put on paper. Of course, one has to realize that the “substance” giving Bascom his feeling and appearance of aplomb was not of land and cattle and money in the bank. It was something more ethereal, harder to grasp, and harder still to hang on to in changing times and values, but it was worth more to Bascom than property and...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Bouquets and Arrows
    (pp. 117-144)

    What purposes did Lunsford have In mind? The question is a hard one, for while he talked much about his work, he did not discuss the broader cultural and political implications of his activities. Most of us, except for eager academics, find it difficult to verbalize the wispy theories that motivate us to action. Lunsford often referred to old singers dying with their treasures of ballads, of the old ways dying out, of the progressive pushing out the traditional and of the failure of the young to appreciate the value of old ways. But he was clearly ambivalent In his...

    (pp. 145-148)
  12. Appendices
    (pp. 149-190)
    (pp. 191-249)

    The following ballads, hymns and songs are taken from Lunsford’s “Memory Collection,” with notations by Dr. John Forbes formerly of the Berea College Department of Music, now librarian at Baker University, Baldwin City, Kansas. Recognizing that songs in the oral tradition can never be fully captured on paper, no particular attempt was made to record all of the nuances of Lunsford’s style, which often varied from verse to verse. These are the basic tunes and verses, sometimes taken from more than one recording. The keys and chords are merely suggestions for those who wish to learn the songs. Lower case...