Four-time Grammy winner and PBS television host David Holt and his band performed and shared stories about their musical journey at an Upper School assembly on April 13.
Holt’s Heathwood appearance was made possible by past parents Lyles and Melanie Glenn, whose daughter Hunter graduated from Heathwood and is now completing law school. The Glenns are sponsors of Holt, who is a musician, storyteller, historian and entertainer dedicated to performing and preserving traditional American music and stories.
Holt, who hails from the Asheville area and is the host of PBS’s David Holt’s State of Music, has spent his career, studying, preserving, and sharing mountain music, a dynamic genre with a history going back hundreds of years that finds its roots in the African-American and Anglo-American traditions and that has shaped other American musical traditions including bluegrass, the blues, and rock and roll. Counting such notables as Doc Watson, Etta Baker, Ralph Stanley, Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins, and Bessie Jones as mentors, Holt traveled and performed with Doc Watson for 14 years, and appeared as a musician in the film O Brother Where Art Thou. He has been a frequent guest on Hee Haw and The Grand Ole Oprey and is a longtime host of the NC PBS series Folkways.
For an appreciative audience of Heathwood students and faculty, Holt and his band performed a series of traditional songs, most originating in North or South Carolina, and told stories about the various musicians from whom they’d learned them, including a South Carolina woman who was over 120 years old when Holt met her in the 1990s. They played instruments ranging from steel guitar to stump fiddle—made from bottle caps nailed to a rhododendron stick—to spoons and bones to a banjo made from groundhog hide and catgut. For one number, they invited Heathwood Junior Jack Falvey to join them on stage playing mandolin. They also brought a basketball with them to celebrate Heathwood alumna A’ja Wilson’s recent NCAA championship.
Having a musician/historian of Holt’s caliber on campus was an amazing experience for our students, said Middle School and Upper School Music Teacher Janis Corley: “The breadth of his knowledge of musical traditions in this part of the country is just amazing, and his passion for connecting with the people who have passed those traditions down is so inspiring,” Corley said. “We are so grateful to the Glenn family for making his performance at Heathwood possible.”