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Doc Watson’s signature baritone voice and unique lead bluegrass guitar licks became synonymous with traditional and bluegrass music. Born in Deep Gap, N.C., Doc lost his vision before his first birthday but never let his blindness slow him down, learning ballads and teaching himself harmonica, banjo and guitar. Since his death in 2012, Doc remains the most highly respected flat-pick guitar player in the history of traditional American music.

When English, Irish and Scottish settlers moved into Appalachia, they brought an ancient form of music with them – the ballad. The isolated mountains drew song collectors like Englishman Cecil Sharp. In Madison County, Sharp collected several hundred songs – including 70 from Jane Hicks Gentry from Hot Springs.

Brasstown, in the far southwest corner of North Carolina, is home to the John C. Campbell Folk School founded in 1925. Its founder Olive Dame Campbell collected the music of the region, including ballads and fiddle tunes. Today, people from all over the world travel to the Folk School to begin their day with Morningsong and attend classes in everything from mandolin playing to blacksmithing. Evening entertainment includes Southern Mountain Square Dance, jams and concerts.

For generations, fiddles and banjos have played a role in the music of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. In turn, musicians who are Cherokee, or of Cherokee descent, have helped shape the sound of bluegrass and old-time music.

Shaped note singing, a new form of sacred music, swept through the Blue Ridge Mountains at the dawn of the 19th century, using triangles, ovals and even half-moons to correspond to the notes of the familiar do-re-mi-fal-sol musical scale. In the mountains of North Carolina, shaped note singing still thrives in many communities. The Etowah singing, near Hendersonville, has been going on for more than a 100 years, and is held in May and September. In Canton, singers gather at the Morning Star Methodist Church on Old Folks Day, the second Sunday in September.

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