Thomas Clarence Ashley was an American singer and banjoist who helped popularize the Appalachian sound. In the following video, Mr. Ashley speaks to a reporter of the effort by New York music producers to bring the Appalachian sound to a larger audience by bringing the Appalachian artists to New York to record. 

Ashley says: “They was lookin’ for something and hopin’ they’d find it. In other words, they wasn’t musicians. And they didn’t have the talent. And they didn’t have the feelin’. And they wouldn’t know if you was in tune or whether you was out of tune.”

Ashley’s mother, Rosie-Belle Ashley, a singer, returned to her father’s home to raise Tom C. Ashley or “Tommy Tiddy Waddy” when she discovered that her husband, George McCurry, also a singer, was as gifted in polygamy and philandering, as he was in music.

 

Provided a peanut banjo by his grandfather at the age of eight, Tom C. Ashley was raised in a musician’s home, with his aunts and grandfather gifted; with music incorporated into everyday activities of the town and community in which he was raised; and, some instruction being provided him by the tenants of his family’s boarding house.

When Ashley was sixteen, he joined Doc White Cloud’s traveling medical show and went on to record with folk artists such as Doc Watson and Tex Isley. Following a self-imposed retirement in the 1930s, perhaps due to a lack of sustainable living by way of music, Mr. Ashley re-discovered music (or it rediscovered him) in the 1940s and he began to record again in the 1960s. Mr. Ashley was inducted into the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame in 2010. 

Further Reading: Smithsonian Folkways, Tom Ashley, The Clarence Ashley Collection.

Editors, writers and members of the Fraternal Order of the Leather Apron Club.