Virginia Folklife Program

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

Folklife Showcase Presenter Sammy Shelor Named Steve Martin Prize Winner

Posted: 2011-09-08 | Categories: Uncategorized |

  Patrick County banjo player Sammy Shelor, a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities Master artist, learned this week he has been chosen as this year’s winner of The Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. As a result, Sammy and the Lonesome River Band will perform with the comedian and actor on the “Late Show With David Letterman” on November 3, 2011.

Shelor and his banjo-playing apprentice Ashley Nale appeared in Charlottesville September 11 as part of the VFH Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Showcase.

Fans of the Virginia Folklife program may have heard Shelor’s talents in 2007 when VFH produced “Taking the Crooked Road Home” featuring Shelor and Linda Lay; the CD is one of a series of Crooked Road music CDs promoting Virginia artists.

Shelor joined the Lonesome River Band in 1990 and has led the band since 2000, continuing to influence banjo players everywhere with his traditional blue-grass style, part of the reason Martin and others selected Shelor as this year’s prize winner, according to the New York Times.  Nominees for the Steve Martin Prize are chosen by a board that includes Martin, Earl Scruggs, Pete Wernick, Tony Trischka, Béla Fleck and others musicians appreciative of the distinctive American roots genre.

“Sammy is, without question, one of our favorites. Virginia has always been fertile ground for banjo players, from old time to bluegrass, and in the latter category, nobody is stronger than Sammy Shelor,” declared Jon Lohman, director of the Virginia Folklife program, upon hearing of Shelor’s latest award.

Shelor and other members of the Lonesome River Band are nominees for a variety of upcoming International Bluegrass Music Association awards that will be announced September 29 in Nashville.  This month also marks the 30th anniversary of the Lonesome River Band, according to Rural Rhythm Records, which released the band’s most recent CD, “Still Learning” and the IBMA nominee for album of the year, “The All-Star Jam: Live At Graves Mountain” that features Shelor’s banjo playing, too.

In addition the opportunity to appear on the Letterman show, the Martin prize comes with an Eric Fischl sculpture and a $50,000 award.

For more information on Sammy Shelor and the Lonesome River Band, visit


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