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Clarence Ashley


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“Tom” Clarence Ashley (Clarence Earl McCurry, Bristol, Tennessee, September 29, 1895 - Winston-Salem, North Carolina, June 2, 1967) was an American clawhammer banjo player, guitarist and singer.

He began performing at medicine shows in the Southern Appalachian region as early as 1911, and gained initial fame in the late 1920s as both a solo recording artist and as a member of various string bands. After his “rediscovery” during the folk revival of the 1960s, Ashley spent the last years of his life playing at folk music concerts, including appearances at Carnegie Hall in New York and at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island.

Clarence Ashley was born Clarence Earl McCurry in Bristol, Tennessee in 1895, the only child of George McCurry and Rose-Belle Ashley. Those who knew George McMurry described him variously as a “one-eyed fiddler, hell-raiser, and big talker.” Shortly before Clarence was born, Rose-Belle’s father, Enoch Ashley, discovered that George was an adulterer, and George was forced to leave town. Rose-Belle moved back in with her father, and around 1900, the family relocated to Shouns, Tennessee, a crossroads just south of Mountain City, where Enoch ran a boarding house. When Clarence was very young, he was nicknamed “Tommy Tiddy Waddy” (after a nursery rhyme) by his grandfather Enoch, and thus became known to friends and acquaintances as ‘Tom’. As he was raised by the parents of his mother, the name “McCurry” was dropped in favour of “Ashley”.

From his birth, Tom was surrounded by musicians.


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