Guide to the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Papers, November 12, 1967

Summary Information

Title: Bascom Lamar Lunsford Papers, November 12, 1967
Collection: AC.598
Extent: 0.01 linear feet (1 folder)

This collection consists of a copy of Lunsford's poet The Master's Will written November 12, 1967 and signed by him.

Creator: Lunsford, Bascom Lamar, 1882-1973

Biographical/Historical Note

Bascom Lamar Lunsford was born at Mars Hill, Madison County, North Carolina in 1882, into the world of traditional Appalachian folk music. At an early age, his father, a teacher, gave him a fiddle, and his mother sang religious songs and traditional balads. Lunsford also learned banjo and began to perform at weddings and square dances.

After qualifying as a teacher at Rutherford College, Lunsford taught at schools in Madison County. In 1913, Lunsford qualified in law at Trinity College, later to become Duke University. He began to travel and collect material at the start of the 20th century, often meeting singers on isolated farms. Lunsford has been quoted as saying he spent nights in more homes from Harpers Ferry to Iron Mountain than God.

Lunsford gave lectures and performances while dressed in a starched white shirt and black bow tie. This formal dress was part of his campaign against the stereotyping of “hillbillies”.

In 1922 Frank C. Brown, a song collector, recorded 32 items on wax cylinders from Bascom. In 1928, Lunsford recorded Jesse James and I Wish I Was a Mole In the Ground for the Brunswick record label. Harry Smith included Mole on his Anthology of American Folk Music in 1952.

Lunsford played in a style from Western North Carolina, which had a rhythmic up-stroke brushing the strings. It sounds similar to clawhammer banjo playing, which emphasises the downstroke. He also played a mandoline, an instrument with mandolin body and a five-string banjo neck. He occasionally played fiddle for dance tunes such as Rye Straw. He censored himself, avoiding obscene songs or omitting verses. His repertoire included Child Ballads, negro spirituals and parlor songs. A CD collection of Lunsford's recordings, from the Brunswick recordings of the 1920s to the recordings for the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress in 1949, Ballads, Banjo Tunes and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina, was released by Smithsonian Folkways Records in 1996.

In 1927 the Asheville Chamber of Commerce organized a 'Rhododendron Festival' to encourage tourism. The Chamber asked Lunsford to invite local musicians and dancers. 1928 was the first year of the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, often claimed as the first event to be described as a Folk Festival. After a few years the rhododendron element disappeared but the festival continues to this day. He was the organiser and performed there every year until he suffered a stroke in 1965.

The supernatural fantasy-fiction book Who Fears the Devil? by Manly Wade Wellman, is dedicated to Lunsford. Both men were natives of North Carolina, and Wellman's protagonist Silver John is a folk singer, like Lunsford.

Bascom was involved in the politics of the Democratic Party. He managed the campaign for Congressman Zebulon Weaver for North Carolina. From 1931 to 1934 he was a reading clerk of the North Carolina House of Representatives. Charles Seeger employed him in the mid-30s to promote singers in Skyline Farms, as part of the New Deal. Lunsford was invited to the White House by President Roosevelt in 1939, when he performed his music for King George VI. Lunsford died on 4 September 1973.

Scope and Contents

This collection includes the poem, The Master's Will, which was written November 12, 1967 as well as autographed.


It is a single-item collection.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for use in the Dougherty Reading Room. An appointment for research is recommended. The Dougherty Reading Room is located on the 4th floor of Belk Library in Special Collections.

Acquisitions Information

The donor of this collection is unknown. Accessions number AC.2003.009

Processing Information

Processed by Anita Elliott, March 2013. This collection was processed as part of a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. The grant funded extensive processing of the backlog within the W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection between 2012 and 2014.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], AC.598: Bascom Lamar Lunsford Papers, W.L. Eury Appalachian Collection, Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina, USA.

Container List

Papers, November 12, 1967 ACSC_Box 18, Folder 6