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Traditional Appalachian Music

My great-Papaw Cochran playing the banjo is one of my earliest and foggiest memories. The memory is so faint, sometimes I wonder if it happened at all. My family assures me my memory is correct; Papaw Cochran played the banjo up into his 90s. You hear banjo and think he must’ve played bluegrass, but he didn’t. He played something older, something folksier: traditional Appalachian music.

One of Papaw Cochran’s favorite songs was The Ballad of John Henry. Every time I hear it, I’m flooded with memories of hearing similar music as a child. I heard it at festivals and carnivals around Canton. Old men sat on benches in front of service stations playing it, and sometimes I heard it when my Papaw took me clogging.

The History Of Traditional Appalachian Music

The music is a reflection of Appalachia’s unique past. Inspired by musical traditions of the English, Irish, and Scottish settlers of the 18th century, which focused primarily on ballads and reels (particularly those accompanied by the fiddle). Other notable influences include the traditional music of enslaved Africans (who introduced the banjo in the late 1700s), New World ballads, hymns, and coal mining & protest songs.

Traditional Appalachian music gained fame in the early 1920s after it was first recorded. Unfortunately, the Great Depression put an end to its rising popularity. Though its success was short-lived, it became the basis for old-time music, bluegrass, and country. As bluegrass and country rose in popularity, traditional Appalachian music could have faded to the point of extinction. Instead, it crept back into the hills from which it came and continued to flourish as regional folk music.

As an Appalachian native, I can attest that traditional Appalachian music can still be heard throughout the mountains. People back home get together to play the old tunes and attend festivals centered around the time-honored tradition that refuses to die.

**Information in the Traditional Appalachian Music post came from several websites including, mustrad.org.uk, wisegeek.com, and Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

Leave a Comment


  1. Vilma wrote:

    Love this

    Published 2.1.22
    • Cassie wrote:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! I come from a very musical family – so these are precious memories for me. 🙂

      Published 2.12.22
  2. Hi Cassie!
    I am with Clan Cochrane of North America and wondered if it would be ok for me to share this with the rest of the family via our newsletter and Facebook page. I would also love a chance to talk with you about some upcoming events including a huge family gathering at Grandfather Mountain next summer.

    Published 10.20.22
    • Cassie wrote:

      Hey there, Candace! That would be great. I hope y’all enjoy it! If you’d like to drop me an email, I’d love to chat. You can reach me at wherethedogwoodblooms@gmail.com 🙂

      Published 10.26.22
      • Candace wrote:

        I’ve sent an email but I think it may have ended up in your spam box. 🙁

        Published 11.10.22
        • Cassie wrote:

          I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus, so I haven’t checked my email. I’ll check it ASAP and get back to you! 😉

          Published 12.31.22