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From Doc Watson to The Cockman Family— Local Musicians Have Their Place of Honor in Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame

The grand finale was the icing on the cake during the 15th annual Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony, during which inductees, their friends and the house band Virginialina brought the audience to its feet with a performance not to be forgotten. Included in the photo is Ashe native, Cindy Brooks Baucom, who with her husband, Terry Baucom, (also pictured) helped introduced two of the inductees. Photo by Sherrie Norris.

By Sherrie Norris

From Doc Watson’s induction as one of the first recipients of the Blue Ridge Hall of Fame in 2008, to The Cockman Family as one of the most recent inductees on Saturday, March 24, 2023, there’s no doubt that local talent is revered within this region.

The 15th Annual Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony was a huge success, said organizers following the sold-out event held at the Wilkes Heritage Museum in Wilkesboro.  It was much more than a ceremony, most agreed, as the audience was treated to numerous performances throughout the evening, featuring not only those well-recognized names on the impressive list of inductees, but also their sidemen and women who brought their talent to the stage. 

Most performances were accompanied by house band, Virginialina, certainly no strangers to the area, as its members —David Johnson, Eric Ellis, Scott Freeman and Scott Gentry — have represented the Blue Ridge Hall of Fame for many years. Johnson, band leader and familiar face to the Boone area, received his invitation into the Hall of Fame in its first year, along with Doc Watson, Wayne Henderson, Earl Scruggs, The Carter Family, Tommy Jarrell, Ralph Epperson, Dolly Parton, Sam Love Queen, Sr. and Ralph Rinzier.

With that early roster, and one that has continued each year thereafter, there is no denying that the Blue Ridge Hall of Fame leaves few, if any, stones unturned in recognizing regional talent at its best. Others, as well, familiar names/residents/natives of the High Country area to be inducted into the coveted hall of fame include Olla Belle Reed, Willard Watson, Cindy Baucom, Jeff Little, Scotty and Lula Belle Wiseman and T. Michael Coleman, to name a few.

Blowing Rock’s John Cockman, Jr. kicks off a tune as The Cockman Family is honored during Saturday’s Blue Ridge Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Wilkesboro. Photo by Sherrie Norris.

On Saturday, The Cockman Family, with strong ties to the High Country and a fan base for miles around, was welcomed as the newest inductees into the Blue Ridge Hall of Fame’s Gospel Music category; recognized as this year’s Nationally Known Bluegrass Artist was Doyle Lawson; Willard Gayheart (Sideman and Regional Musician), Benton Flippen (Pioneer Artist), L.W. Lambert (Master Musician and Tradition Bearer), Barry Poss/Sugar Hill Records (Recording Industry) and Donnie Story (Recipient of the Dr. T.R. Bryan/Wilkes Heritage Award).

As educational as it was entertaining, the event was led by emcee,  Art Menius, also a past honorary recipient, assisted Saturday by Carol Rifkin and Jim Trice. 

They, along with several well-known presenters,  did a wonderful job sharing biographical highlights of  the recipients and as was said, they helped set the pace for the evening.

More About This Year’s Hall of Fame Recipients:

The Cockman Family, Gospel recipient for 2023, was recognized by “Hank” Van Hoy for the members’ vast  contributions to the world of gospel music in their 35 years as a band. The multi-talented, multi-award winners of siblings, along with their father, are individually and collectively gifted, and are passing their legacy on to the next generation, as four of the eldest grandchildren have already formed their own band, and two have received impressive awards in music-related arenas. Their unique style of traditional gospel music, with their tight family harmonies, brought delight to the audience during their performance on Saturday. 

Iconic fiddler Benton Flippen, this year’s Pioneer Award winner, was memorialized by Kelly Epperson, owner and managing director of WPAQ in Mount Airy. Epperson shared that Flippen was a member of the band that in 1948 christened the radio station’s regionally-famous Studio A, the first to perform live on-air, and in 2007 with the advent of streaming, was the first band to be heard internationally from WPAQ. 

Terry and Cindy Baucom, previous inductees to the BRHF, presented two awards on Saturday, their first to the late, great banjo player, L.W. Lambert as Master Musician & Tradition Bearer. The couple highlighted several of Lambert’s contributions to the world of music, including his influences upon other musicians. Lambert’s daughter, Melissa, accepted her father’s award, accompanied by  several family members in the audience. 

Donnie Story is known far and wide for his eclectic musical talents, having performed all over western North Carolina  and beyond for the last 50-plus years. He’s shared the stage with the likes of The Guess Who, The Temptations, Bo Didley, John Cowan and so many others.  He has performed at every Merlefest since 1992 with the Banknotes in their annual Bill Young tribute.  Photo by Sherrie Norris.

In his presentation, Scott Freeman, son-in-law of Willard Gayheart, 2023 Sideman and Regional Musician, shared with the audience about Gayheart’s first guitar purchase with the $3 he earned by starting fires in coal-burning stoves each morning in his Kentucky school — and how his musical career grew in earnest when, as an adult, he moved to the Galax, Va., area. Still a great performer in his own right, Gayheart joined Virginalina for a riveting performance on stage.

The Baucoms, who likely know Doyle Lawson better than anyone in the audience on Saturday,  introduced the recently “retired” bluegrass music icon and multi-award winner, and shared a few memories of  their personal experiences with him through the years. While Lawson is no longer touring with his longtime Quick Silver band, (of which Terry Baucom was a member for many years), he shared that he is still very active in the bluegrass world, with producing, instructing and more.The audience was certainly delighted by Lawson’s performance with the Baucoms and members of the house band for a fast-paced “Shenandoah Breakdown,” as well as the grand finale.

The life and times of Sugar Hill Records and its founder Barry Poss was highlighted by Tom Rankin, who, as event coordinators described “tied it all together,” during his presentation, as Poss, “a musician himself and record producer, has been active in the careers of several of the evenings’ inductees, plus some of the speakers.” Poss  shared with the audience several stories  related to his humble beginnings, fellow musicians, the Wilkes County area, and more; he was honored with the performance of Virginialina, along with Doyle Lawson and Terry Baucom, which paid tribute to his career. 

A special memorial tribute was made to the late Dr. T. R. Bryan, a charter member/trustee of the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame. Bryan’s daughter, Pam Terrell, shared how her father’s love of the area’s local musicians and that their friendship meant so much to him. Bryan was remembered as “an avid supporter of music and musicians at all levels,” and created and supported many music programs and community organizations. 

Introducing  their friend and longtime bandmate, Donnie Story as  recipient of the 2023 Dr. T.R. Bryan Wilkes Heritage Music Award, Billy Gee and Mel Jones, master musicians in their own right, talk about picking with area musicians during their early days at Appalachian State University in Boone. Photo by Sherrie Norris.

In his honor, the Dr. T.R. Bryan Wilkes Heritage Music Award was established by the Blue Ridge Hall of Fame Trustees and the Wilkes Acoustic Folk Society “to be given to a person who has contributed to music on the local level in Wilkes County, and may include different genres of music, promotions, etc.”

And so it was that the final inductee for the evening was Wilkes County native, Donnie Story, who described the evening as “was one of the greatest nights in my long career as a musician.”

His sincerity was evidenced in the company of his longtime friends and fellow musicians Billy Gee and Mel Jones, who not only inducted Story, but shared snippets of their times together through the years — with much of their start in music occuring while in Boone as students at Appalachian State University. The audience was rocking in their seats to the beats of  The Non Prophets and Tin Can Alley, two of Story’s bands — and a perfect way to welcome the newest  inductee.

And the icing on the cake, after all was said and done, was the annual grand finale — the all-star jam, with the inductees gathering on the stage with the house band and other performers during the event, coming together as one. And one, they are in the world of music.

Hats off to each of the inductees, performers and folks behind the scenes for an incredible night of history, acknowledgment and first-class entertainment. 

Sponsors for this event included the Town of Wilkesboro, Marilyn Payne/A-1 Self Storage, NC Arts Council and Wilkes Art Gallery, Arnold and Rebecca Lakey, Main Street Music and Loan, Heart of Folk/Carolina in the Fall, Brame Huie Pharmacy, GUNTONFILM.com, Ann Showalter, George Childers, Nancy Watson, R. G. Absher, and Surrey Bank & Trust.  This project is supported by the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

The Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame was founded and exists today as a way to showcase and preserve the rich musical heritage of the greater Blue Ridge Mountains — from northern Georgia to northern Virginia. The Hall of Fame educates, defines and interprets the history of music and musicians in all genres from the region with exhibits and an annual celebration of inductees. Centrally located at the Wilkes Heritage Museum in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame increases the visibility of, and support for, the museum.

The Wilkes Heritage Museum collects and preserves historic structures, artifacts, and documents of Wilkes County and serves as a resource center for every Wilkes County citizen and visitor. Through exhibits, educational programs, performances and research, the Wilkes Heritage Museum interprets the history of Wilkes County and western North Carolina. It makes for a great day trip from the High Country!

Wilkes Heritage Museum is located at 100 East Main Street in Wilkesboro.

For more information about The Wilkes Heritage Museum and/or the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame, call 336-667-3171 or go to www.wilkesheritagemuseum.com.