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Bascom Lamar Lunsford
Born March 21, 1882
Mars Hill, North Carolina
Died September 4, 1973
Other names Minstrel of the Appalachians
Occupation folklorist, lawyer
Spouse(s) Nellie Triplett
Parents James Bassett Lunsford, Luarta Leah Buckner

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."


Early life

Bascom Lamar Lunsford was born at Mars Hill, Madison County, North Carolina in 1882. His father James Bassett Lunsford was a self-taught teacher and his mother Luarta Leah Buckner often sang old ballads and religious songs. His father bought a fiddle to be shared between Bascom and his brother Blackwell. Later his brother bought a banjo. He played this on all social occasions - square dances, weddings and school entertainments. He enrolled at Rutherford College and began teaching in Madison County. When he became a fruit tree salesman he visited isolated farms and there exchanged songs and tunes with the customers. In 1906 he married Nellie Triplett. In 1909 he re-enrolled at Rutherford College. After studying at Trinity College (which became Duke University) he passed the bar exams and became licensed solicitor in 1913.

North Carolina folklore

He gave lectures on folklore poetry and songs. Almost mocking the formal structure of these lectures he wore white tie and tails, and proceeded to play the banjo. During the First World War he became an agent chasing draft evaders. In 1922 Frank C. Brown, a song collector, recorded 32 items on wax cylinders from Bascom. In 1924 he recorded "Jesse James" and "I Wish I Was a Mole In the Ground" for the General Phonograph Company for commercial release. He recorded it again in 1949 for the Archive of American Folksong. It is not clear whether Bob Dylan ever heard it, but Bascom's delivery has some hallmarks of Dylan's early style, with a tight voice on the high notes. In 1928 he recorded for Brunswick. He 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.

The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival

In 1927 the Asheville Chamber of Commerce organized a rhododendron festival to encourage tourism. The Chamber asked Bascom 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.

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". He performed at the White House in 1939 when the King and Queen of Britain paid a visit.

He died on 4 September 1973.[1]

His fame today rests on his performances, several of which have been preserved on records, and are also available on compact disc. Many of these recordings were made by the Library of Congress to preserve vanishing Appalachian culture.

His most famous recording is "I Wish I Was a Mole In the Ground", which is discussed at length in Greil Marcus' The Old Weird America. It is collected on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. A CD devoted exclusively to Lunsford is available, titled Ballads, Banjo Tunes, and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina.

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.


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


  1. ^ Jones, Minstrel, pp. 111-112, 138.


  • Loyal Jones, Minstrel of the Appalachians: The Story of Bascom Lamar Lunsford (Appalachian Consortium Press, 1984; Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2002). ISBN 978-0813190273

External links

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