Bascom Lamar Lunsford-Minstrel of Appalachia
The people of Madison County believe that we can rightfully claim to be the center of traditional mountain music because that person—Bascom Lamar Lunsford—was born in 1882 in Mars Hill. A historical marker can be found on Cascade Street marking the location of his original home.
The story of Madison County music is inextricably linked to the families who settled here. Many of the musicians are described first by who they are related to. And, to paint a true-to-the-voice-of-Madison-County picture, the best way to portray those musicians from past and present is to go straight to one of Madison County’s best known storyteller/ writer/musicians—Joe Penland. Joe’s great grandmother was a first cousin of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Minstrel of Appalachia, and just one link in Joe’s rich musical heritage.
He began collecting songs at the turn of the century shortly after graduating from college. The types of jobs that he held allowed him to travel throughout the region. Those jobs ranged from selling fruit trees, working as an attorney and even serving for a short time with the FBI.
In addition to collecting hundreds of songs for the Library of Congress’ Archive of American Folk Song, in 1928 he was hired to organize The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville. This gave him the opportunity to help spread the southern style of buck dancing. Buck dancing is an energetic technique of rhythmically accompanying a tune with one’s feet that fused Scottish, Irish, Black and Cherokee dancing. Up until he was hired to organize the festival he had held dance competitions in North Carolina, often at his home where he installed a special dance floor.