Whitetop Mountain Band
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Whitetop Mountain Band

Whitetop, Virginia, United States

Whitetop, Virginia, United States
Band Country Bluegrass

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"Pop and Jazz Guide"

A selective listing by critics of The Times of noteworthy pop and jazz concerts in the New York metropolitan region this weekend. * denotes a highly recommended concert.
* LYNN MORRIS BAND, WHITETOP MOUNTAIN BAND, Haft Auditorium, Fashion Institute of Technology, While men take the lead vocals in most bluegrass and old-timey bands, this final concert of the World Music Institute's American Folk Roots Festival presents two bands with women up front. The Lynn Morris Band has been widely acclaimed in bluegrass circles for both Ms. Morris's singing and Ron Stewart's fiddling, and it looks well past the standard bluegrass repertory. The Whitetop Mountain Band, from Grayson County, Va., plays the old-timey music that predates bluegrass, with gutsy lead vocals from its banjo player, Emily Spencer. ).
- New York Times


"A New Set of Strings"

As I stood in the shade of trees along Main Street, listening to the band's set during the Galax Leaf and String Festival in early June, I was awed by how good these kids are and the fact that they will continue a musical tradition that began when Europeans first settled the Blue Ridge two centuries ago.In a parking lot just a block away, siblings Martha and Kilby Spencer led their band, the Crooked Road Old-Time Band, in a set of fiddle tunes and vocal songs. The Spencers' parents, Thornton and Emily Spencer, are well-known musicians who played for years with the legendary Albert Hash in the Whitetop Mountain Band.

Hash was a well-known fiddle player and maker from just across the line in North Carolina who passed his love of music on to the likes of the Spencers, Wayne Henderson and Tom Barr. In these parts, it's true that everybody seems related, at least musically.

- Roanoke Times


"Family Fiddling Keeps Mountain Music Alive"

At the ripe old age of 22, Martha Spencer is already thinking about passing down her love of old-time mountain music to the next generation.

"I think it's very important to keep things like that alive," said Spencer, who grew up in the high country of Grayson County in Southwest Virginia.

Spencer learned to play old-time fiddle as an apprentice to her father, Thornton Spencer, as part of the Virginia Folklife Program's apprenticeship program.

She and her dad will be among those talking and performing in the Traditional Craft Demonstration Area at the National Folk Festival Oct. 12-14 along the downtown riverfront in Richmond. She also will conduct an Appalachian dance workshop.

Music has never exactly been a foreign concept for Spencer, who grew up surrounded by people who make music and by people who make the instruments that make the music.

Her uncle was the late Albert Hash, a legendary fiddle-maker and fiddler who taught her dad how to play.

Her mother, Emily, is the music director at Mount Rogers School, a tiny public school tucked at the base of a mountain; the enrollment is less than 100 for kindergarten through 12th grade combined. The school has no marching band but a collection of string musicians who make up what is undoubtedly the only high school mountain music band in the state.

Two of Emily Spencer's students at Mount Rogers were Martha and her brother, Kilby, an accomplished guitarist. Besides fiddle, Martha plays guitar, banjo and bass, as well as a little dulcimer and mandolin. She also sings.

She graduated from Mount Rogers in 2002. During an interview that year, she and the other members of the senior class -- all six of them -- expressed a deep love for their rural community, which is at once embracing and insulating.

The seniors had various career aspirations, but all said their main goal was to live right where they were.

Spencer went off to Emory & Henry College and graduated last spring with a degree in public policy with an emphasis on public education and cultural preservation. Now she's back home weighing career options -- teaching or counseling or attending law school -- and playing music.

"After the fall, I'll have to get me a job," she said with a laugh during a phone interview last week. "Until then, I'm just going to play music."

Spencer plays in The Whitetop Mountain Band, which includes her father and mother. She recently recorded a CD, "Home Is Where My Mamma Sings," with Jackson Cunningham, another member of the band.

She's her same sweetly affable self whether she's performing in front of thousands at a festival or a couple of dozen at the campground amphitheater at Grayson Highlands State Park, which is just up the road from her home.

She and Cunningham are currently traveling in the United Kingdom, playing a festival and other shows.

After Spencer performs at the National Folk Festival, it's off to the West Coast with other musicians from Southwest Virginia to play a series of shows to promote the "Crooked Road," the state's musical heritage trail. She'll cap off her world tour in January with a trip to Australia, where she and Cunningham have been invited to perform at a folk festival.

Spencer enjoys traveling, but she likes coming home even better.

"I've got pretty deep ties to the region," she said. "I care a lot about where I'm from, and the music kind of keeps me tied to the region as well."
Contact Bill Lohmann at (804) 649-6639 or wlohmann@timesdispatch.com.
- Richmond Times-Dispatch


"Music From the Crooked Road: Craterian, Medford OR"

The Whitetop Mountain Band is the most celebrated string band from the Blue Ridge. Founded by legendary fiddle-maker Albert Hash the core of this "hardcore old time" group is the Spencer family: Thornton on fiddle, wife Emily on banjo and vocals, and daughter Martha on guitar, fiddle, banjo, and vocals. Rounding out the group are Spencer Pennington, Jackson Cunningham, and Debbie Bramer. - NCTA


Discography

Whitetop Mountain 311
Cacklin' Hen Mountain 313
Whitetop Mountain Band Heritage XX
Winebarger's Mill Heritage
Echoes of the Blue Ridge
Swing Your Partner Heritage
Train 45 Zeke's Studio
Dancer's Choice Zeke's Studio
Greetings From Whitetop/Crooked Road Series Virginia Foundation for the Humanties
Bull Plus 10% Arhoolie 522
Other recordings include:
Old Originals Volume 2 Rounder
Liberty with Kyle Creed Mountain
Fiddlin' Up a Storm Montana Young/Crooked Road Series
National Folk Festival LP 1977
Old Five String Volume 2 Heritage
Rugby Guitar Wayne Henderson Flying Fish
Tunes and Tales From Rugby Creek
Mt. Rogers Ramblers Zeke's Studio
Seedtime on the Cumberland Festival Releases Juneappal
Guide to the Crooked Road Book/CD Compilation/"Rake and Rambling Boy"
"Home is Where My Momma Sings"
Our most current releases are "Bull Plus 10%" and "Greetings From Whitetop" which are receiving airplay. "Echoes of the Blue Ridge" has received airplay in a variety of places around the world. Many of our recordings have been played on radio over the years.

Photos

Bio

Whitetop Mountain Band Bio:

The Whitetop Mountain Band is a family-based band from the highest mountains of Virginia. Whitetop, Virginia is an area rich in the old time music tradition; this band has deep roots in mountain music. The members have done much to preserve the Whitetop regions style of old time fiddling and banjo picking and are legendary musicians and teachers of the style.
At the same time, Whitetop Mountain Band shows are very versatile and entertaining containing everything from fiddle/banjo instrumentals to powerful solos and harmony vocals on blues, classic country, honky tonk, traditional bluegrass numbers, old timey ballads, originals, and four part mountain gospel songs. Shows also include flat foot dancing. The band is well known for their high energy and charisma on stage.
The Whitetop Mountain Band is one of the most popular dance bands of the Appalachian Mountains. They have a great following at square dances all over Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky at venues like the Carter Family Fold. The band has also performed at all sorts of venues throughout the United States from festivals to concerts, competitions, and colleges. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, National Folklife Festival, World Music Institute in NYC, Carter Family Festival, Dock Boggs Festival, World Fair, Virginia Arts Festival, Floydfest, Ola Belle Reed Festival and Merlefest are a few of the many festivals the band has performed at. They recently were featured on the NCTA Crooked Road Music tour of California, Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho in October 2007. In September 2007, Members also toured the United Kingdom and Ireland playing the Cornish Bluegrass Festival and Open House Festival along with venues through England, Wales, and Ireland. In January 2008, members of the band also played at the Illawarra Folk Festival and Tamworth Country Music Festival in New South Wales, Australia. The band has also taught and been master musicians/dancers for workshops and classes in fiddle, banjo, guitar, vocals, and dance all over the US. Some of these include Swannanoa Gathering in Asheville, NC, Cowan Creek Music School in KY, Mountain Music School in Big Stone Gap, and Mt. Rogers Combined School. Thornton and Martha also participated in the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities Master/Apprenticeship Program in Old Time Fiddling.
The band has also won many awards throughout the years at competitions and fiddlers conventions like Fiddlers Grove, Galax Old Time Fiddlers Convention, Sugar Grove, Jefferson, Fairview Battle of the Bands, Laurel Bloomery, etc. They have over a hundred ribbons/trophies altogether in band, fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, folk song, duet singing, and dancing awards. In 2012, they received a bill passed by the State Senate and House for their contribution to Virginia mountain music. The Whitetop Mountain Band also won ACMA Old Time Entertainers of the Year in 2013.
The band currently has recordings on the Arhoolie Record Label and Virginia Foundation of the Humanities. The band has also been recorded by JuneAppal, Heritage and been on compilations for Rounder Records.
The Whitetop Mountain Band has been featured in many books, magazines, and tv/radio shows about Appalachian music such as The Guide to the Crooked Road, A Hotbed of Musicians, Strings of Life, In Good Keeping, Country Music Television, Travel Channel, PBS, Old Time Herald, and many tv news and radio programs.

History
The band originated with Albert Hash in the 1940s, a well-known and beloved fiddler and luthier. When he was a teenager, Albert played fiddle with Henry Whitter of Grayson & Whitter which recorded during the 1920s. Albert had a tremendous impact on the old time and bluegrass scene. The tune, Hangmans Reel that Albert recorded is the version played by so many old time musicians today. He also taught such luthiers as Wayne Henderson, Audrey Ham, and many others to build instruments.
In the 1970s, Alberts brother-in-law, Thornton Spencer (twin fiddle), and his wife, Emily Spencer (banjo, vocals), joined Albert in the Whitetop Mountain Band. The three also started an old time music program at Mt. Rogers School, a small k-12 public school, in Whitetop. The students learn fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass, etc. and dancing. Emily Spencer carries on the program and it has received a lot of regional and national attention for its uniqueness (Grammy in the Schools nomination, included in CMT documentary, in numerous articles and radio shows).

Current lineup
The Whitetop Mountain Band is still carried on today by Thornton Spencer on fiddle, and Emily Spencer on banjo and vocals along with their multi-instrumentalist and dancing daughter, Martha Spencer, Ersel Fletcher on guitar/vocals, Debbie Bramer on bass, and Jackson Cunningham on mandolin/vocals.

Band Members