Guests of Honor

Jimmy & Ada McCown

Jimmy McCown grew up in a musical family on Pond Creek in Pike County, KY In the late 1940s the area was filled with accomplished banjo players, many of whom played the clawhammer style, a form that plays an important rhythm role in old-time music. After serving in the U.S. Air Force, Jimmy went on to master the three-finger bluegrass banjo style. Jimmy and Ada married and Jimmy taught Ada to play guitar. They had their own Bluegrass band from 1968 – 2003 recording 6 albums and touring the U.S. and Canada. In 1977 Jimmy added an extra to make his banjo a 6 string banjo. where he learned to play banjo from his grandfather, Boyd Smith.

“During that time,” Jimmy says, “I never lost sight of the mountain music of my childhood.” Jimmy refocused his playing on the clawhammer style. Jimmy explored some unique methods within the clawhammer style—methods he recalled from his grandfather and learned from other old-time banjo legends—to develop his own distinguished sound.

“I also play fiddle, and I could never accept the fact that the banjo had to be a ‘back up’ instrument. So, I began trying to play the melody to the songs and realized this wasn’t possible without dropping my thumb into the scale. He has become identified with this style of melodic drop-thumb playing, that his grandfather called “double note” banjo.

Jimmy has been on the faculty of Banjo Camp North, and he and Ada have taught at the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School in Whitesburg, KY and at the Hindman Settlement School, Hindman, KY. Jimmy has a collection of ribbons and has 2 old time banjo CDs to his credit. Jimmy and Ada have also recorded a fiddle CD.

They’ve performed at the Appalshop Banjo Days, the Carter Family Fold in Hilton’s, VA, and the Kentucky Folk Life Festival as well as the Old Songs Festival in Albany, NY. While in NY, they’ve played house concerts and shared the stage with Jane Rothfield.

He has been a master traditional artist in the Kentucky Arts Council, Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program.

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