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Roscoe Holcomb


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Roscoe Holcomb, (born as Roscoe Halcomb September 5, 1912 - died February 1, 1981) was an American singer, banjo player, and guitarist from Daisy, Kentucky. A prominent figure in Appalachian folk music, Holcomb was the inspiration for the term “high, lonesome sound,” coined by folklorist and friend John Cohen. The term is now used to describe bluegrass singing, although Holcomb was not, strictly speaking, a bluegrass performer.

Holcomb’s repertoire included old-time music, hymns, and blues ballads. He was a competent harmonica player, and sang many of his most memorable songs a cappella.

Holcomb sang in a falsetto deeply informed by the Old Regular Baptist vocal tradition. Bob Dylan, a fan of Holcomb, described his singing as possessing “an untamed sense of control.” He was also admired by the Stanley Brothers, and Eric Clapton cited Holcomb as his favorite country musician.

A coal miner and farmer for much of his life, Holcomb was not recorded until 1958, after which his career as a professional musician was bolstered by the folk revival of the 1960s. Holcomb gave his last live performance in 1978. Holcomb, body wracked with asthma and emphysema, died in 1981 at the age of 68.

Mountain Music of Kentucky, Folkways Records and Service Corp., 1960 (reissued on Smithsonian Folkways in 1996, with other artists)
The Music of Roscoe Holcomb and Wade Ward, Folkways Records and Service Corp., 1962
Friends of Old Time Music, Folkways Records, 1964


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