Katelyn Prieboy is a 23 year-old musician based out of Nashville who is helping to expand the legacy of thumbpicking. Thumbpicking is a style of guitar playing that originated from the coalfields of western Kentucky in the late 1800s. This traditional art form was influenced by early parlor guitar styles and African American music—namely from the styles of Arnold Shultz and Kennedy Jones. Country music icon Chester Burton Atkins, who was born and raised in Luttrell, Tennessee, picked up the style and spread it to even wider audiences. Atkins went on to play with legendary musicians like Mother Maybelle Carter and on the Grand Ole Opry stage where he would earn the name “Mr. Guitar.”
After moving to Nashville, Katelyn learned from renowned musicians such as John Knowles and John Pell. She has since played with Tommy Emmanuel, Doyle Dykes, Steve Wariner, Thom Bresh, and Eddie Pennington. Katelyn hopes to pass on this traditional style which few specialize in. By teaching others this tradition, Katelyn aims to preserve Atkins’ legacy and musical style.
Apprentice Grace Adele is a student of the Western Swing tradition and plays in a Nashville-based band called The Farmer & Adele. Already knowledgeable about the style of music, Grace learned to play jazz and swing rhythm guitar from Ranger Doug of The Riders In The Sky. She became familiar with Chet Atkins’ style of playing through the Country jazz recordings of Homer Haynes and Jethro Burns that Chet produced. The musicianship on these records led her down the path to her current musical style. In Grace’s words, “The Chet Atkins style of guitar playing is important in my community. I feel that this style of music is overlooked compared to current popular country music. It’s a style that was the core sound for Country Music during the ‘golden years’ of Nashville.”
Katelyn and Grace will work together on playing solo in the Chet Atkins thumbpicking method and learning his repertoire of popular songs. They will also collaborate to write an instrumental in the Chet Atkins style. Grace explains, “Katelyn is one of three women that I know of in Tennessee who can play thumb/fingerstyle guitar. Katelyn is outstanding in her craft.”
“Preserving this style and passing it on is important for continued learning on the guitar; it’s a focused artist skill that allows the guitar to sing the melody,” says Grace. “The traditional thumb/fingerstyle of guitar playing tells the story of women and men who sing and play their guitar. That’s a story I love and would love the opportunity to continue the story.