Bascom Lamar Lunsford

Photo courtesy of Mars Hill College.

Sights & Sounds

Types of Artistry

Historic Artist

Bascom Lamar Lunsford

Old-time banjo player and singer, folklorist

Madison and Buncombe Counties

Musician, folklorist, and festival organizer Bascom Lamar Lunsford was born in Madison County. His father was a Confederate veteran from East Tennessee, and his mother came from a Unionist family from Buncombe and Madison Counties. His mother was a ballad singer, and her family included fiddlers and other musicians. When Bascom and his brother Blackwell were children, they learned to play the fiddle, and then as teenagers took up the banjo, which would become Lunsford's primary instrument.

As a grown man, Lunsford worked in many different professions over the years. He was a fruit tree and honey salesman, lawyer, publisher, teacher, and reading clerk in the North Carolina House of Representatives. It was in his work as a fruit tree salesman that Lunsford developed his vast repertoire of traditional songs and tunes. The job required him to travel throughout the mountains, staying with customers, and on his trips he would learn music from the people he met. The songs and tunes that he knew from memory numbered over 300, and the files that he kept included 3,000 pieces. He eventually recorded his memory collection for Columbia University and the Library of Congress.

In 1927 the Asheville Chamber of Commerce asked Lunsford to organize a festival. The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival has been in existence since, occurring every August in Asheville. He also organized festivals at the University of North Carolina, in Raleigh and Cherokee, and in Kentucky, Virginia, and South Carolina. He performed extensively as well, playing for the Roosevelts and the King and Queen of England at the White House in 1939, and composed songs, including the famous "Mountain Dew." Lunsford died in 1973 at the age of 91.

 

Note: "Historic Artist" designates one who is deceased but whose legacy continues to influence and inspire new generations.