Autoharp Hall of Fame member Will Smith has been playing for almost 50 years. Mostly self-taught, he transferred skills from guitar, just as autoharp legend Maybelle Carter did. Will managed a coffeehouse in Charlottesville, Virginia in the early 1970s and saw firsthand some of the most influential players, including Mike Seeger, Kilby Snow, Gove Scrivenor, and Bryan Bowers. Will eventually became an in-demand player in Nashville and has appeared as a sideman on the Grand Ole Opry and on numerous albums with artists such as Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire, Kathy Mattea, Collin Raye, Randy VanWarmer, Pam Tillis, Hobo Jim, and others. Loretta Lynn’s Full Circle recording, which features Will’s playing on “I Never Will Marry”, was Grammy-nominated for Country Album of the Year in 2017. He was also included on the Autoharp Legacy anthology CD, and has performed internationally. Since the mid-1980s, he has performed, published arrangements, and given workshops and private lessons across the United States.
Apprentice Sarah Carter has been playing autoharp for 10 years, and is a part of Nashville’s old time music community. In addition to expanding her skills on the autoharp, Sarah plans to learn basic repair and maintenance on the instrument. Will is excited to work with his new apprentice. He explains: “Nationally the average age of autoharp enthusiasts has got to be around 70. Sarah seems to be an ideal candidate to take this on. Having an enthusiastic millennial willing to participate in this genre is encouraging.” In their project, they will work on building a solid rhythmic foundation, learning song structure and the logic of chord progressions. The music learned will lean heavily on folk music associated with the Appalachian region oral tradition.