Who Am I?–Folk Music Edition

As I pick my way through images in the disturbingly large “People, Unidentified” pile, I find myself particularly troubled by the portraits of traditional musicians who remain nameless. Maybe it’s because I’m a musician myself, or because I know that these images may document little-known players — at any rate, this is where you, dear readers, come in. What can you tell us about the people shown below?
I have a feeling the woodcarver on the left must be a well-known individual. I’ve certainly seen his work before, but I don’t know his name. As for the banjo player on the right, the only clue I can offer is that his banjo is autographed by Roni Stoneman, of Hee-Haw fame.

Here’s a very well-dressed gentleman playing a dulcimer with a turkey feather, as per Appalachian Mountain tradition . . .

And another dulcimer player, not quite so well-dressed, sitting on a split rail fence with Grandfather Mountain behind him (not visible in this shot). This man’s dulcimer is a real work of art — hand painted with birds, flowers, and the letters “N, M, P,” and with hand carved pegs also in the shape of flowers (I think these are dogwoods, the North Carolina state flower) and birds (cardinals, the North Carolina state bird).

I’m uncertain as to whether the fiddler below might be Roby Coffey, brother of previously-blogged-about “Happy John” Coffey, or Shoner Benfield, previously identified in a “Singing on the Mountain” image. I’m leaning towards Benfield. But what about the young guitar player? (Apologies for the streak partially obscuring his face).

And finally, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite images of “Happy John” and his compatriots at “Singing on the Mountain.” Is that Roby to the right of Happy John? Does anyone know these other characters?

UPDATE 6/10/09: Many, many thanks to the commenters who have identified nearly all of the individuals above: Tom Wolfe and Floyd Gragg, Shoner Benfield and Randall Calloway, Edd Presnell. Only turkey feather man remains a mystery.
Now that we know Edd Presnell‘s name, we can find several resources having to do with him and his wife Nettie: 1) Nettie was featured on the poplar CD Appalachian Breakdown; you can hear brief clips of her playing on Amazon; 2) Edd was featured on UNC-TV’s Folkways program (the audio link on this page doesn’t work); 3) Both Edd and Nettie were interviewed in 1984 as part of the Southern Oral History Program (no transcript or audio available online, unfortunately).

13 thoughts on “Who Am I?–Folk Music Edition”

  1. The wood carver is Tom Wolfe. He has a shop here on Grandfather Mountain–which is open a few days a week on Tom’s schedule.
    The banjo player is Floyd Gragg. He operates a honey stand between the Blue Ridge Parkway and the entrance to Grandfather Mountain.
    The second, bearded dulcimer player is the legendary Edd Presnell (1917–1994) of Banner Elk.
    I remember photographing the fiddle player once, but I don’t remember his name.

  2. Elizabeth,
    For the “Happy John” photo, that may be Fiddlin’ Bill Hensley with the white moustache and hat on his left.

  3. The dulcimer Edd Presnell is holding is not painted. The cardinals, dogwood flowers and initials ‘NMP’ are wood inlay. This particular dulcimer was made for his wife (my grandmother) Nettie Presnell.

  4. The banjo participant is Floyd Gragg. He operates the honey remain between the Azure Ridge Parkway and also the entrance in order to Grandfather Hill.
    The second, bearded dulcimer participant is the renowned Edd Presnell (1917-1994) of Banner ad Elk.
    I remember taking photos of the mess player as soon as, but We don’t remember their name.

  5. thank you to those who had a hand in these photos. edd presnell was my grandpa. it was a joy to find his picture along with others. i can also testify that the dulcimer was not painted. the redwood on the dulcimer was called vermillion. they ordered it special. thanks again, and hello to my cousin susie, whom i haent seen in years, hope you are doing well. take care and i love you!

  6. As a research assistant for the Southern Folklife Collection, I am working on a finding aid for the Folkstreams.net Collection. Folkstreams.net was created by documentary filmmmaker Tom Davenport. The website streams moving images that focus on American folk and roots cultures. It is a great website and I would recommend for everyone to explore its contents here:
    While researching for this finding aid, I came across this short film on Edd Presnell:
    The film is called “Edd Presnell: Dulcimer Maker.” The summary on the website reads “Edd Presnell, a mountain craftsman and native of Watauga County, North Carolina, demonstrates and comments on the construction of a dulcimer. Presnell learned his craft from his father-in-law. Film includes a brief performance on a finished dulcimer by his wife, Nettie. This 16mm film is archived in the Thomas G. Burton and Jack Schrader collection in the Archives of Appalachia, East Tennessee State University.” I hope you guys enjoy this as much as I did!

  7. The fiddle player is my grandfather shoner benfield, and playing the gutar is his grandson and my cousin larry benfield. Thanks robert benfield

  8. The mountain dulcimer player above is I.G. Greer, at Appalachian State University, Boone, NC. The man holding the mountain dulcimer below that is, as some above have said, is Edd Presnell of Banner Elk, NC. His wife, Nettie, was a fine traditional player and Edd was the builder.
    Lois Hornbostel

  9. RE: Photographs of Tom Wolfe, Floyd Gragg, Houck and K.B. Medford
    Each year, Mr. Morton hosted two photography clinics – the first in late spring – The Nature Photography Weekend; and the second, a Camera Clinic, the main audience being the NC News Photographers Association. These photographs would have been taken at the second when Mr. Morton arranged to have “two models” there to be photographed. We were more interested in playing a few tunes with Floyd. Weeks later, we received from Mr. Morton a large color print from one of the three images – probably the first. Unfortunately, our copy got destroyed in a home accident.
    Houck Medford
    Documentary Artist

  10. Thanks Houck! He’s referring to the three negatives not shown here, but stored in the same envelope in the collection as the color negative scanned and shown above. The negatives depict Houck (playing guitar) and K. B. Medford (playing banjo) with Floyd Gragg made at the same occasion.

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