old-time singer, Manchester
Tennessee Folklife Heritage Award (2003)
As a boy in Coffee County, Roy Harper (1925- ) was struck by the lure of the railroad and the yodeling songs of Jimmie Rodgers, “The Singing Brakeman.” He started gaining firsthand experience with both before he was twenty, working railroad jobs in several parts of the country while also performing as an itinerant musician. During stints in Manchester in the later 1940s and 50s, he became known throughout the region for his partnership with Blake Bynum in the Sand Mountain Boys. During the 1960s he began recording his huge repertory of both “blue yodels” and sentimental songs, and he also made reputation for himself as a self-taught painter of railroad scenes from his own experience. Harper performed in the Tennessee program at the 1986 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife and continues to maintain an active touring schedule at regional festivals and heritage music programs, where he is without peer in preserving the songs and vocal stylings of early country music.