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Master Fiddler Paul Crouch Wins 2011 Bascom Lamar Lunsford Award
Paul Crouch still remembers the first time he heard fiddle music.
Sitting beside his father on the back of his uncle’s pickup truck, the family was going to the local grocery story in Ridgeway, South Carolina. But as they pulled up to the back of the store, a man walked out on the porch on the back of the store with a fiddle in his hand, sat down and began to play.
“That’s the first time I’d heard a fiddle played, and I never forgot it,” Crouch said recently. “I thought that was the prettiest thing I’d ever heard.”
Now, over seven decades later, master fiddler Paul Crouch has received the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Award. The award was presented during the evening concert of the Bascom Lamar Lunsford “Minstrel of Appalachia” Festival at Mars Hill College October 1. At 83, Crouch is many years from that boy in South Carolina who first heard the fiddle play, but he has never lost his appreciation for the instrument and the music that have so impacted his life.
“I like music. Music, I think it must have been born in me,” he said. “I can’t read a note of music, but if a band plays a tune and I’ve never heard it, chances are by the time they get back to me, I can play it. You’ve either got that or you don’t have it.”
In the course of Crouch’s lengthy career, it has been clear to audiences and musicians alike that he “has it” when it comes to making fiddle music. By his mid-teens, the self-taught young man was playing with musicians Jack and Curly Shelton in a band called The Green Mountain Boys. By then the family had moved to Weaverville, NC. Young Crouch walked out of Herron Cove before sunup every morning to catch the bus to Asheville to play live on the WWNC Farm Hour radio show at 6 am.
He was still a very young man when he was the first fiddler asked to play for bluegrass legend Mack Wiseman.
Over the course of his life he has played with bands named The Lincoln County Partners, the acclaimed bluegrass band The Midnight Plowboys, and The McMinn Family Band. His fame as a fiddler has won him invitations to play twice for president Carter, once at the White House for an event given by then Senator Jim Broyhill and at festivals and events all over the South. He was even once asked to play with Bill Munroe, but chose to eschew the touring life to stay home with his wife Betty and son Mark. So important to Crouch was his home life that he never toured, preferring to stay home and maintain a primary career as an Asheville City fireman, while using his spare time to fiddle on stages all over the region.
“I have played everywhere,” Crouch said, “and it’s been a kick.”
The Bascom Lamar Lunsford award is given annually at the Lunsford Festival to a musician whose work reflects the spirit of Lunsford himself, a musician and folklorist who dedicated his life to collecting and promoting the music of the Southern Appalachians. Through his work, he became known as the "Minstrel of the Appalachia."
Lunsford was credited with beginning the folk festival model, with the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, an event which still happens yearly in Asheville. But the only festival which Lunsford allowed to carry his name takes place at the college and in the town where Lunsford was born: Mars Hill. The festival, now in its 44th year, takes place mere yards from Lunsford’s birthplace, on the site where Cornwell Hall now stands.
The Lunsford award is chosen by the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival Committee, and the Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies at Mars Hill College.
According to committee member Roger Howell, a famed fiddler in his own right, the Lunsford Award goes to people who have, in various ways, continued the work of Lunsford. “A lot of people in Lunsford’s time thought mountain music was hillbilly and that the mountain people were ignorant and backward and all that. But Lunsford understood and appreciated their music for what it was: a whole different art form,” Howell said.
Crouch, Howell said, continues that tradition by elevating mountain music to an art form.
“If anybody deserves the Lunsford Award, it’s Paul Crouch. You can’t hardly beat him on his style. He’s got a basic bluegrass style, but it’s got a little more of the old mountain stuff mixed in,” he said.
Howell said he would rate Crouch among the best two or three fiddlers in the Southern region.”Man, he’s something. I know fiddling,” Howell said, “and I’m one of his biggest fans.”
Crouch said he takes pride in having won the award. “It makes me feel good. It makes me feel like maybe I did something right,” he said.
Crouch said he looks back on the musicians who inspired him and he hopes that he’s done something to keep the bluegrass and mountain traditions alive. “Every fiddle player that comes along brings a little something of his own with him. He may sound a little like somebody but he’ll put a little of his own stuff in it. But I hope that some kids along the way heard me and it inspired them to maybe, say: ‘I’d like to play the fiddle. I liked to hear that old feller play, so I’d like to play.’ I hope it did.”