Appalachian Dulcimer Traditions

BOOK: Appalachian Dulcimer Traditions
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American Folk Music and Musicians Series


1. Wasn't That a Time!: Firsthand Accounts of the Folk Music Revival
, edited by Ronald D. Cohen. 1995, paperback edition, 2002.
2. Appalachian Dulcimer Traditions
, by Ralph Lee Smith. 1997, paperback edition, 2001.


Ballad of an American: The Autobiography of Earl Robinson
, by Earl Robinson with Eric A. Gordon. 1998.

American Folk Music and Left-Wing Politics, 1927–1957
, by Richard A. Reuss with JoAnne C. Reuss. 2000.

The Hammered Dulcimer: A History
, by Paul M. Gifford. 2001.


The Unbroken Circle: Tradition and Innovation in the Music of Ry Cooder and Taj Majal
, by Fred Metting. 2001.

The Formative Dylan: Transmission and Stylistic Influences, 1961–1963
, by Todd Harvey. 2001.


Exploring Roots Music: Twenty Years of the JEMF Quarterly
, edited by Nolan Porterfield. 2004.

Revolutionizing Children's Records: The Young People's Records and Children's Record Guild Series, 1946–1977
, by David Bonner. 2007.

Paul Clayton and the Folksong Revival
, by Bob Coltman. 2008.

A History of Folk Music Festivals in the United States: Feasts of Musical Celebration
, by Ronald D. Cohen. 2008.

Ramblin' Jack Elliott: The Never-Ending Highway
, by Hank Reineke. 2010.

Appalachian Dulcimer Traditions: Second Edition
, by Ralph Lee Smith. 2010.

Appalachian Dulcimer

Second Edition

Ralph Lee Smith

American Folk Music and Musicians, No. 13

Plymouth, UK

Published by Scarecrow Press, Inc.
A wholly owned subsidiary of The Rowman & Littlefi eld Publishing Group, Inc.
4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706

Estover Road, Plymouth PL6 7PY, United Kingdom

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Lee Smith

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Smith, Ralph Lee, 1927-
   Appalachian dulcimer traditions / Ralph Lee Smith. — 2nd ed.
          p. cm. — (American folk music and musicians ; No. 13)
 Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-8108-7411-4 (pbk. : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-8108-7412-1 (ebook)
1. Appalachian dulcimer—History. I. Title.
ML1015.A6S63 2010


 The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992

Printed in the United States of America

To the people of the Southern Appalachian Mountains,
known and unknown, who developed the dulcimer
and preserved its traditions,


To my parents, Hugh and Barbara Smith,
Pennsylvania rare book and antique dealers,
who taught me to love old things,


To my wife, Shizuko, and my daughter, Koyuki,
who took the wonderful Appalachian journeys with me.
Series Editor's Foreword

Ralph Lee Smith, the first editor of the American Folk Music and Musicians Series for Scarecrow Press, has now thoroughly expanded and updated
Appalachian Dulcimer Traditions
, first published in 1997 (with the paperback edition to follow in 2002). This is not only a history of the mountain dulcimer, based on Smith's extensive and unique research over the last half-century, but also his personal story of tracking and mastering the instrument. What was considered a rather obscure folk instrument in the 1950s has been transformed into a common part of traditional Southern music. How this happened is part of the story that Smith tells, while focusing on the instrument's makers and their local stories. The numerous illustrations serve to highlight the dulcimer's grassroots beginnings and stylings, although the story actually begins in Europe some centuries earlier. This is a fitting companion to Paul Gifford's
The Hammered Dulcimer
(2001), as the two instruments, while vastly different, oddly share a common name. Smith's volume appears along with Hank Reineke's biography of Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and both demonstrate the range of topics covered in the series.

Ronald D. Cohen

A Note about the New Edition

This new edition of
Appalachian Dulcimer Traditions
is a third longer than the original edition, which was published in 1997. Much of the new material pertains to the history of the dulcimer and the scheitholt prior to the Civil War, about which we possess information that we did not have when the first edition was published. To accommodate this new material, the first two chapters of the original edition have been expanded to three and have been entirely rewritten. In chapter 1, I have added a description of my initial adventures in searching for the dulcimer's history, which took place while I lived in Greenwich Village in the late 1950s and the 1960s. I have also added a new final chapter (chapter 8, “Some Interesting Types”), describing types and styles that do not fit conveniently into the mainstream of development that is described in the preceding chapters.


Readers will quickly discover that many people contributed the information that appears in this book. Whenever possible, I have named them in the text as part of the discussion of the information and/or pictures that they contributed. However, I especially wish to thank Carilyn Vice and Josie Wiseman, both of whom have amassed great dulcimer collections and have unselfishly shared information and photographs; Greg Gunner, who gathers information on the dulcimer families of western North Carolina; Clifford Glenn, retired dulcimer maker of western North Carolina whose family is the direct inheritor of the area's dulcimer traditions; Roddy Moore, director of the Blue Ridge Institute at Ferrum College, Ferrum, Virginia, for invaluable information about Virginia dulcimer traditions; Kimberly Burnette-Dean, former lead historical interpreter for Virginia's Explore Park, Roanoke, Virginia, whose search of pre–Civil War estate inventories and sales in 14 Virginia counties opened up whole new vistas of early dulcimer history; and John Rice Irwin, founder and director of the Museum of Appalachia, a storehouse of information about everything pertaining to mountain life.

I write a column on dulcimer history called “Mountain Dulcimer Tales and Traditions” for the quarterly magazine
Dulcimer Players News
. Many readers of the column have contacted me to pass on intriguing leads or to tell me about exciting discoveries. Some of the information and photos that they provided ended up in my column and from there have journeyed to the pages of this book. Thank you to all!

Most of the information about West Virginia's pioneer dulcimer maker, Charles N. Prichard, that appears in chapter 5 originally appeared in an article in the
Swarthmore College Bulletin
. I wish to thank the
Dulcimer Players News
for permission to use material that originally appeared in their pages.

Photos that appear in the book without attribution were taken by the author.

Happy reading!

A Talk with Patrick Gainer in 1980

The date is February 11, 1980. I am on the phone with Dr. Patrick Gainer, professor emeritus of English at West Virginia University, who is the state's best-known folklorist. Dr. Gainer had spent decades doing field research on West Virginia folklore and folk music, owned a collection of old dulcimers, and had issued two recordings of West Virginia field-recorded folk songs. I am asking him what he knows about the origins of the dulcimer. I can almost see him smiling as he replies, “Nobody knows very much!”

Perhaps, Dr. Gainer said, it descended from a 17th-century English instrument called the rebec. “In Upshur County,” he said, “there was an old fellow who owned a dulcimer, and he called it his rebecky.”

I asked Dr. Gainer about his experience with the dulcimer in West Virginia.

“In 1950,” he replied, “I started the West Virginia State Folk Festival at Glenville State College. I brought a man to the festival named Henry Brant, who made dulcimers. Brant was from Nicholas County. Brant's dulcimers were the first ones that anyone at the festival had ever seen.

BOOK: Appalachian Dulcimer Traditions
6.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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