08 May 2015

Carroll Best, 1931-95

The BIB editor writes:

Twenty years ago today (8 May 1995) the respected bluegrass/ old-time musician Carroll Best (Hugh Carroll Best, jr) of Haywood County, North Carolina, was shot dead by his quarrelsome brother Sam.

His life, music, and legacy are covered in detail in Ted Olson's liner notes to the CD Carroll Best and the White Oak String Band: old-time bluegrass from the Great Smoky Mountains, 1956 & 1959, released last September. The notes can be read online, and the text (without the notes on individual tracks) also appears as 'Carroll Best: old-time "fiddle-style banjo" from the Great Smoky Mountains' in The Old Time Herald, xiii, no. 10, which came out last autumn. A biographical article also appears on the Mountain Grown Music website, devoted to the traditional music of Haywood County.

Best was clearly well liked and respected in his home region and a dedicated, versatile, and innovative musician who absorbed traditional and contemporary developments in banjo-playing into a distinct personal style. On the evidence of the 1956-9 recordings, he had also developed a method of playing fiddle tunes note-for-note before such well-known players as Bill Keith, Eric Weissberg, and Bobby Thompson.

Best's own playing did not become widely known till the 1990s, since when he has been recognised as a pioneer of 'melodic' banjo. Professor Olson has sought to give him a central place in developing the style, contending that Best did not merely precede Thompson and Keith, but influenced them. In my view, this has not yet been proved; but that is no reason not to commemorate the life and music of Carroll Best and to regret his untimely death.

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