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Tommy Jarrell

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  • Born: Mount Airy, NC
  • Died: Mount Airy, NC
  • Years Active: 1960s, 1970s, 1980s


Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

The old-timey sounds of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina were preserved through the recordings of fiddler, banjo player, and vocalist Tommy Jarrell. Although Jarrell didn't begin recording until his retirement from the North Carolina Highway Department in 1966, his nine albums of traditional banjo and fiddle tunes serve as a reminder of an influential old-timey sound.

One of ten children, Jarrell inherited his love of music from his father, Ben Jarrell, who made a few recordings with Da Costa Woltz's Southern Broadcasters in the late 1920s. Jarrell bought his first fiddle at the age of eight, with money he made gambling. Learning most of his repertoire by 1925, Jarrell performed at unpaid, informal, house parties and contests. He was little known outside the local area, however, until the mid-'60s when his son, B.F., a disc jockey in North Carolina, encouraged Alan Jabbour, then a member of the Hollow Rock String Band and later the director of the Library of Congress' American Folklife Division, to visit the Jarrell home and record his father.

Word of Jarrell's authentic playing soon spread as he was visited by numerous urban traditional music enthusiasts. By the late '60s, Jarrell was performing at folk festivals and concerts in the west and midwest. In 1982, he was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

In addition to his albums, Jarrell was featured in several video documentaries including, Sprout Wings & Fly, produced by Les Blank, Cece Conway, and Alice Gerrard, My Old Fiddle, produced by Les Blank, and Legends of Old Timey Music.