Virginia Folklife Program

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

Master & Apprentice Program


Master Artist: Bob Cage
Apprentice: Jim Crawford
County: Halifax
Folkway: Tobacco Auctioneer

The “Old Belt” stretches across the Virginia/ North Carolina border, including Pittsylvania and Halifax as well as portions of neighboring counties, with Danville at its epicenter. For more than a century, millions of pounds of some of the highest-grade cigarette tobacco in the world has been grown by farmers in this region and sold through an auction system that supported not just the local economy, but also a distinctive fabric of local traditions and ways of life. One of the most remarkable traditions to come out of the tobacco auction system was the chants of the tobacco auctioneer. Arguably the most distinctive voice ever to grace the Old Belt is Bob Cage, a world champion auctioneer.  The key to successful auctioneering, he said, is learning to put on a show for buyers and spectators, and creating a synergetic rhythm between the auctioneer and the bidders:  “The buyers have to really dance to your tune,” Bob explains.  By the mid-1990s, demand for tobacco in the United States was in steep decline, world markets were changing, and tobacco farming was sustained to a large extent by a system of price supports and allotments that have resulted in the end of the tobacco auction, and this treasured verbal art. To help keep this tradition from being lost, Cage is working with documentary film maker and tobacco auction enthusiast Jim Crawford, to both record and pass along this dying art.

Master Artist: Scott Fore
Apprentice: Cheryl Lunsford
County: Radford
Folkway: Flatpick Guitar Playing

Traditionally in America, from the 1800s through the 1930s, the guitar was primarily used as a rhythm instrument. As more and more guitar players began to play lead breaks on the guitar throughout the 1940s and 50s, two main styles emerged–”fingerstyle” and “flatpicking.” The term “flatpicking” originated with early lead acoustic guitar players in traditional country and bluegrass music who used a plectrum to play the guitar. The plectrum of choice was called a “flat pick” or “straight pick.” They devised the “flatpick” term in order to distinguish their technique from “fingerstyle” players who used finger picks, thumb picks, or bare fingers to pick the guitar’s strings.  Scott Fore, of Radford, has established himself as one of the finest flatpickers in the world.  He has won countless flatpicking competitions, including the prestigious Winfield Guitar Championships, the Galax Fiddlers Convention, and the Wayne C. Henderson All-Star Competition.   Scott’s apprentice, Cheryl Lunsford, is quickly establishing herself as one of the area’s finest female flatpickers.

Master Artist: Linda Lay
Apprentice: Katherine Whitesell
County: Winchester
Folkway: Bluegrass Singing

While many first associate bluegrass with lightening quick instrumentation, any bluegrass musician will tell you that it is usually the singer that makes the band.  Linda Lay was born and raised in Bristol, Virginia, a city at the heart of one of the nation’s richest breeding grounds for traditional musicians. She began singing on stage when she was eight years old. She played in her family’s string band, influenced by local traditional singers like Ralph Stanley, hearing echoes of one of the finest family bands in American music, the Carter Family. Linda grew up singing and dancing at the Carter Family Fold, a music hall at the Carter homestead at Hiltons, just west of Bristol. She traveled with her family’s band until she formed her own group, Appalachian Trail, which performed together for two decades.  Linda has made many of critically acclaimed recordings since, and has toured throughout the country and abroad.  Linda will be sharing her singing secrets with Katherine Whitesell.

Master Artist: Charles McRaven
Apprentices: Willy Lehmann and Daniel Malcolm
County: Albemarle
Folkway: Hewn Log House Construction & Pioneer Crafts

Charles “Mac” McRaven has been building with stone, log and post&beam since he was 11 years old. His parents built their homes in the 1940’s with the help of their children. This fascination has lasted more than 50 years.  McRaven has built and restored hundreds of log, stone and post&beam structures all over the United States. His preservation work and his writings have earned him recognition as America’s leading authority on the preservation of the nation’s structural history.  Mac’s specialty is the preservation of a small but important segment of American history – the hewn or square log house. Mac will teach this time-worn craft to two apprentices, Willy Lehmann and Daniel Malcolm.

Master Artist: Frank Newsome
Apprentice: Buster Mullins
County: Buchanan
Folkway: Old Regular Baptist Hymn Singing

The singing of the Old Regular Baptists from the coal-mining country in the heart of the southern Appalachian Mountains is one of the oldest and deepest veins of the English/Scots/Irish-based American melodic traditions. This hymnody, with its elaborate, lined-out, unaccompanied singing, is not well known outside its region, cannot be heard on television or radio, and little of it has been available on recordings.  Elder Frank Newsome, of Little David Old Regular Baptist Church outside of Haysi, Virginia, is one of the great masters of this singing style, which inspires his congregation every Sunday.  Frequent Little David attendee Dr. Ralph Stanley is so enamored with Newsome’s  singing that he regularly invites him to sing at his annual music festival.  Frank will be apprenticing fellow Elder Buster Mullins.

Master Artist: Herschel Sizemore
Apprentice: Spencer Blankenship
County: Roanoke
Folkway: Mandolin Playing

The mandolin was introduced to the United States by Italian immigrants in the nineteenth century, and was popularized by Bill Monroe, who featured the instrument as a cornerstone of his newly created country-old time hybrid, “Bluegrass.”  Virginia has been home to many of the “founding fathers” of bluegrass, including National Heritage Fellowship recipients Ralph Stanley and Jesse McRenoylds, and the master mandolin player and composer Herschel Sizemore. Herschel’s place in bluegrass history has been cemented by his composition of “Rebecca,” perhaps the most popular mandolin contest song on the “fiddler’s convention” circuit.  Herschel will be teaching “Rebecca” and many of his countless other compositions to Spencer Blankenship, one of the true emerging stars on the mandolin.

Master Artist: Tom VanNortwick
Apprentice: Andrew Elder
County: Henry
Folkway: Automobile Pinstriping

Ever since the automobile has been mass produced by the assembly lines of Detroit, it has been revised, altered, elaborated, and reconstructed in small garages and car shops throughout America.  The historic practice of creating visually dynamic “hot rods” is particularly rich in southwest Virginia, which has been home to some of the finest practitioners of the automotive arts, including upholstery, hot rod building, body customizing, and pinstriping – the application of a thin line of paint to create designs on the cars’ exterior.  Virginia is home to one of the true living legends of pinstriping, Tom VanNortwick, who will be sharing his expertise with his young, enthusiastic apprentice, Andrew Elder.