Bascom Lamar Lunsford

Bascom Lamar Lunsford (March 21, 1882 – September 4, 1973) was a lawyer, folklorist, and performer of traditional (folk and country) music from western North Carolina. He was often known by the nickname "Minstrel of the Appalachians."


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 ballads. 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".

Appalachian music

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”.

The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival

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.


In 1964, the North Carolina fantasy and horror writer Manly Wade Wellman dedicated his book "Who Fears the Devil?" to Lunsford. Wellman's fictional protagonist, Silver John, was an Appalachian folk singer, like Lunsford.

Bob Dylan, who listened to the Anthology of American Folk Music, echoed a line from "I Wish I Was a Mole In the Ground." Lunsford sang, "'Cause a railroad man they'll kill you when he can / And drink up your blood like wine," which is echoed by Dylan's line "Mona tried to tell me / To stay away from the train line / She said that all the railroad men / Just drink up your blood like wine" on his song "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again", recorded in 1966 for the album Blonde on Blonde.

Greil Marcus discussed the meaning of "I Wish I Was a Mole In the Ground" both in his liner notes to Bob Dylan and The Band's album, The Basement Tapes (1975), and in his book Lipstick Traces.

Lunsford's original recording of "Good Old Mountain Dew" was used as the first advertising theme for the newly created Mountain Dew soda. He sold the rights to the song for a train ticket home.

In 1964 Lunsford was the subject of a documentary film, shot with a 16mm hand held camera, by New York City filmmaker, David Hoffman.


  • Song and Ballads of American History and of the Assassination of American Presidents (1952)
  • Smokey Mountain Ballads (1953) (Folkways)
  • Minstrel of the Appalachians (1956) (Riverside: RLP 12-645)
  • Bascom Lamar Lunsford (1956) (Riverside)
  • Music from South Turkey Creek (1976) (Rounder Records)
  • Ballads, Banjo Tunes and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina (1996) (Smithsonian Folkways)