Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Homer Ledford - A Kentucky Treasure Passes

Legendary bluegrass musician and instrument maker Homer Ledford, whose work is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution, died Monday afternoon.

Mr. Ledford, of Winchester, was 79.

"He'd been sick real bad for a month or so," said Vernell Carpenter, wife of Rollie Carpenter, a member of the group Homer Ledford and the Cabin Creek Band.

The band had been performing since 1976.

"He hadn't played with the band all year," she said. "He'd been real sick and couldn't walk or anything."

Vernell Carpenter said she and Rollie Carpenter received word of Mr. Ledford's death yesterday from another member of the band, L.C. Johnson. Other band members are Marvin E. Carroll and Pamela Case.

Mr. Ledford was born Sept. 26, 1927, in the Tennessee mountains.

At an early age back in Tennessee Mr. Ledford started making musical instruments, according to his band's Web site.

At 18, he was given a scholarship to attend John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C. He later attended Berea College, but transferred and graduated from what is now Eastern Kentucky University in 1954.

Mr. Ledford worked as a high school industrial arts teacher in Jefferson and Clark counties and became a full-time instrument maker.

He completed an estimated 5,776 dulcimers, 475 banjos, 26 mandolins, 26 guitars, 18 ukuleles, and four violins, among other instruments, the Web site said. He is also the author of a book on Kentucky life that featured his stories and poems called "See Ya' Further Up The Creek."

Mr. Ledford has samples of his craft in the Smithsonian Institution, including a fretless banjo, an Appalachian dulcimer, and a dulcitar, an instrument of his own invention, which he patented.

He was honored in Winchester in 1986 when the Homer Ledford Bluegrass Festival was named after him.

He was also one of the original inductees in the Kentucky Stars. A sidewalk plaque honoring him is in front of the Downtown Arts Center on Main Street in Lexington.

In 2005, Mr. Ledford helped restore an 1850 Martin parlor guitar -- played by Henry Clay's granddaughter, Anne Clay McDowell -- for Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate.

"Homer was a delight to work with, and until I showed up on his doorstep, he had only worked on one other Martin guitar dating to the 19th century," Ann Hagan-Michel, executive director of the estate, said at that time. "He's done a wonderful job, and the guitar is playing nicely now."

Michael Jonathan, the host of Wood Songs Old Time Radio Hour, calls his friend Homer, "a sweet, gentle and humble man. Homer is a great bluegrass musician, a brilliant luthier.

He is survived by his wife, Colista. The two met as students at Berea College in the late 1940s. They were married more than 50 years.

My home state of Kentucky has lost a great treasure.

Excerpts from the obituary written by

Shawntaye Hopkins of the LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

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