Ed Brown, of Dunlap, Tennessee, has secured a reputation as one of Tennessee’s most enduring banjo innovators. Along with banjo player Fred Sullivan and other topnotch acoustic musicians, Brown released two groundbreaking albums, Magnum Banjos and Sequel to Magnum Banjos, in the 1970s.The albums showcased some of the most exceptional and advanced double and triple chromatic banjo arrangements on record in that early progressive era. Though released on Ed’s independent, regional Sequatchie record label, the albums quickly became cult classics and remain highly sought after.
Based always in his home area in the Sequatchie Valley, Ed has remained among the region’s most active and important musicians. Along with his band, The Cumberland Band, Ed has played countless theaters, churches, and festivals. He established a community amphitheater, launched the Dunlap Coke Ovens Festival, and has performed at the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife.
As part of the apprenticeship project, Ed is delving deep into the Sequatchie Valley’s—and his own—musical roots as a bearer of traditional fiddle music. While Ed is primarily known for his banjo playing, both his father, Ray “Georgia Boy” Brown, and his grandfather were well-regarded old time fiddlers. Ed was steeped in the traditional stock of regional fiddle tunes and has played the instrument himself since the 1960s. He retains a rich appreciation and knowledge of the regional music of such players Bob Douglas, Ed and Lewis Hartman, Eddie Dennis, Lum Thomas, Ray Brown, and Clark Lewis.
In apprentice Rebekah Tate, a young fiddler from Dunlap, Ed sees a musician with great promise for carrying on this distinctive traditional music. “The art of traditional fiddling is very rare for youth in the Sequatchie Valley and surrounding mountain communities,” Ed explains. “I believe the musical arts give value, character and distinction to the culture and community, as well as to the individual.”
“I play the fiddle that belonged to my great-grandfather, who was a life-long musician,” Rebekah says. “I would like to learn some traditional, old-time bowing skills, and to play the old songs in the way they were originally. This music is important in my family and community. It is important to preserve this style of music for its cultural and historical significance. Mr. Brown is a talented musician, and the opportunity to learn from him would be helpful for me, as well as my family.”
*This team is funded through a special partnership with the South Arts’ initiative In These Mountains: Central Appalachian Folk Art & Culture.