Traditional Music Today

Looking around Madison County over 100 years after Cecil Sharp traveled from England to collect the old ballads, evidence is everywhere that Sharp’s efforts to preserve the musical heritage were a success. One of the best-known ballad singers of the present time is a great-niece by marriage of Dellie Norton. When Sheila Kay Adams used to drive her great aunt and others to festivals to sing in the 1960s, she, too, learned those songs and those stories that were passed on from England to the settlers and finally to her from her elders. Growing up, singing was as natural as talking to the eighth-generation ballad singers- Dee Dee Norton Buckner, Denise Norton O-Sullivan and Donna Ray Norton. The Music is still as pure as it was hundreds of years before they were born. And the reputation of the county has attracted other talented female ballad singers such as Betty Smith to move here.

Just as the musical blood of their ancestors flows through the veins of all of the talented descendants of the families, so too it seems that the soil of the county creates even more talent. Among the most talented are Ralph Lewis, Arvil Freeman, and Roger Howell. Each of them works to preserve the rich musical heritage of Madison County. Ralph, by passing it on to his sons who sing with him in the Sons of Ralph; Arvil by serving as a teacher to eager young students; and Roger by working tirelessly collecting our musical treasures. Among those treasures that “grew from the soil” are Josh Goforth, a stunning example of today’s young generation. Without a doubt, this musical heritage flowing through blood and talent growing from the soil will continue to attract musicians to come to Madison County or, as in the case of Grammy-award winner Bobby Hicks, to move here because of the energy that vibrates through the air just as it has for hundreds of years.