Bascom Lamar Lunsford was an attorney and a folklorist who became the leading performer and promoter of traditional Appalachian folk music during the early 20th century. Lunsford was born near this marker March 21, 1882, and lived in Mars Hill and the surrounding areas of Western North Carolina until his death in 1973. Known as the “Minstrel of Appalachia”, Lunsford performed and promoted Southern Appalachian across the Unites States of America for several decades. His legacy is preserved in the National Archives and in films, recordings, and festivals. Mars Hill University in Madison County houses the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Ballad Collection in its Southern Appalachian Archives Collection. Lunsford’s instruments are also on display at the school, and the school hosts an annual festival named for him each October.
Lamar Lunsford was born in Mars Hill, North Carolina near
the campus of Mars Hill University on
March 21, 1882. His father, a schoolteacher, gave him a fiddle at an
early age. Lunsford's mother sang ballads and religious songs. Later,
Lunsford's brother bought a banjo which Lunsford quickly learned and
began playing at local square-dances, weddings, and school functions.
After enrolling at Rutherford College, Lunsford began teaching in his
native Madison County. He later attended Trinity College, which later
became Duke University, and passed the North
in 1913. It was when Lunsford worked as a fruit tree salesman,
however, that he began learning songs from the customers he met on
isolated farms, reawakening his interest in music, and in the old
songs in particular.
He began collecting songs and later gave lectures and recitals on
folk music. He made his first recordings in 1924 on wax cylinders. It
was on February 5, 1928, in Ashland, Kentucky, that Lunsford made
some of his best-known recordings at a session for Brunswick Records.
recorded at this session was Lunsford's own composition, Old
Mountain Dew, which later became the jingle for the Mountain
Dew soft drink. Lunsford sold the song to the Mountain Dew company
for train fare home.
Lunsford was active in Democratic Party politics in his native
Western North Carolina. He managed the campaign for Congressman Zebulon Weaver
in his bid for North Carolina's tenth congressional district. 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 President
Roosevelt's “New Deal”. President Roosevelt invited
Lunsford to the White House
in 1939 to Perform for King George VI of Great Britain.
1927, the city of Asheville was planning a Rhododendron Festival to
encourage tourism. They asked Lunsford to invite local musician and
dancers to what would eventually become the Mountain Dance and Folk
Festival. Still held annually, it is recognized as the first event to
be labeled a “folk festival.” Lunsford performed there for almost
40 years, until he suffered a stroke in 1965. Lunsford died on 4
September 1973, after several years of declining health.