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Home North Carolina Madison County City of Mars Hill Historical Markers Bascom Lamar Lunsford

Bascom Lamar Lunsford

Cascade Street, Mars Hill, NC, USA

Latitude & Longitude: 35° 49' 35.6628", -82° 33' 14.8212"
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
""Minstrel of Appalachia." Folklorist, collector, & performer. Pioneered and promoted American folk festivals. Was born here."
     Bascom Lamar Lunsford (1882-1973), preeminent collector of Appalachian folk ballads, showman, buck dancer, and folk festival founder, claimed to have spent time in more homes between West Virginia and Alabama “than anybody but God.” But it was his native western North Carolina which he loved and where he sought to preserve the “old-time ways.” His father was teaching at Mars Hill College when Lunsford was born. Bascom attended Rutherford College, where he would later teach, and trained for the law at Trinity College. In 1925 he moved to South Turkey Creek onto land inherited by his wife. Lunsford sold fruit trees and dabbled at other jobs but as early as 1914 lectured on the region’s music. He served as clerk of the N.C. House from 1931 to 1934.

     In 1928 Asheville business leaders recruited him to coordinate what became the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival (still held for three days in August “along about sundown”). Lunsford, composer of of the widely-played “Mountain Dew,” performed for the Roosevelts, King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth in 1939. He founded folk festivals at the North Carolina State Fair, in Chapel Hill, and in other states. His mastery of his craft was such that he was asked to record his “memory collection” of 350 songs for Columbia University in 1935 and the Library of Congress in 1949.

     Lunsford was an eccentric, sporting a starched white shirt and black bowtie as a symbol of defiance against the prevalent “hillbilly” stereotype. The self-styled “Minstrel of Appalachia” was not without his critics, faulted for autocratic administration of the festivals and for promoting clogging, seen by some as a bastardization of authentic mountain dance. Late in life he had two strokes and died at age ninety-one, one month after his final festival appearance, in 1973. He is buried at the Episcopal Church in the Leicester community near Asheville. Mars Hill College houses his papers, scrapbooks, instruments, and other personal effects. A festival held at Mars Hill each fall bears Lunsford’s name.

Loyal Jones, Minstrel of the Appalachians: The Story of Bascom Lamar Lunsford (1984)
Pete Gilpin and George Stephens, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, “Minstrel of the Appalachians” (1966)
Howard E. Covington Jr. and Marion A. Ellis, eds., The North Carolina Century: Tar Heels Who Made a Difference, 1900-2000 (2002)
“Ballad of a Mountain Man: The Story of Bascom Lamar Lunsford” (American Experience, PBS, 1989)
Asheville Citizen, September 5, 1973
(Raleigh) News and Observer, January 5, 1955
Washington Post, September 6, 1973
Bascom Lamar Lunsford Historical Marker Location Map, Mars Hill, North Carolina