LaVonda Harris Price, of Kingsport, Tennessee, first learned to wrap and weave hair from her neighbor, Ms. Tillie Trammel. Of Ms. Trammel, LaVonda remembers: “Miss Tillie was a wonderful teacher and very good at detail. She could talk to you, style your hair, carry on a phone conversation, everything all at the same time, and when she finished, you were amazed at the new look you had. I miss asking her advice on things, and when I fix hair, it’s just like she would have done it.” LaVonda took the traditional hairstyling skills she learned in her community and went on to become the first student from her high school to receive a scholarship in Cosmetology. She graduated from the Nationwide Beauty Academy and began doing hair professionally in 1983.
LaVonda has presented her hair wrapping and weaving at many local cultural events, including at church and as part of the annual Black History Workshops at the Renaissance Center in Kingsport. For her, the importance goes deeper than just good style, design, and technique. “Sometimes, you can change a man or woman’s whole personality, just by changing the way they wear their hair,” LaVonda explains. “Sometimes, you can go way back to the styles of the Motherland, which are becoming very popular in African-American culture. Hair styling is a long-lost art in the Black community. The braiding that I do is what I love doing the best. I love it because that’s what our ancestors used to do back when.”
As part of the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program this year, LaVonda is teaching hair wrapping and hair weaving to apprentice Zaniah J. Danielle Greene. Zaniah became interested in hairstyling by watching her mother and grandmother do hair at home. She first practiced on her own when she was given a My Life Doll at age 9. She met LaVonda at church, and one days hopes to have her own salon. For LaVonda, this is an opportunity not only to help Zaniah develop skills for a future profession, but also to preserve something valuable: “It is very important to pass down to the next generation so young women and men learn about their ethnic background pertaining to hair. A lot of people don’t even know how to do their own hair, so it is a blessing to pass it on. I want Zaniah to know as much as I do or even more. I want to see her go to another level with doing hair. There is so much to learn especially when it comes to Black hair.”
*This team is funded through a special partnership with the South Arts’ initiative In These Mountains: Central Appalachian Folk Art & Culture.