Ballads

    

The Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina are the center of a rich history of music and dance, from musicians like Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs, to traditions like ballad singing and square dancing. 

Tom Dooley sign, Blue Ridge Parkway
Jan Kronsell, 2002 / Wikipedia, Wikicommons

On June 18, 1866, the body of 21-year-old Laura Foster was found in a shallow grave in Wilkes County, NC. Thomas C. Dula (Tom Dooley), a veteran of the Civil War, was tried, convicted and hanged on May 1, 1868, in Statesville, NC, for the murder.  Dula had fled to Tennessee before the discovery of the body.

Controversy surrounded the trial and conviction. The trial was covered widely in national papers including The New York Times. Dula is reported to have said on the gallows, “Gentlemen, do you see this hand? I didn’t harm a hair on the girl’s head.” 

Ballad singer and banj player Sheila Kay Adams.
Kim Dryden, courtesty of Sheila Kay Adams

Mention the name Sheila Kay Adams to any traditional old time musician and you’re likely to elicit a reverent response.  In the world of American ballad singers, Adams remains one of the pillars of tradition, drawing on her Madison County roots to perform and teach the old style of singing and banjo playing passed down in her family for generations.  This week, her lifetime of nurturing and sharing traditional music earned her a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.