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date: 25 November 2020

Proffitt, Franklocked

  • Robert B. Winans


(b Laurel Bloomery, TN, 1913; d Reese, NC, Nov 24, 1965). American banjo maker and singer. He learned to make banjos and dulcimers from his father, and as an instrument maker became most famous for his banjos, which were typical of those made in the mountains of northwestern North Carolina where he lived. A fine traditional singer (who was also a tobacco farmer and part-time carpenter), he was important in the folk music revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was the source of the song “Tom Dooley.” The song collector and performer Frank Warner recorded this song from Proffitt in 1939, reshaped it over years of performing it himself, and taught his version to Alan Lomax, who published it in 1947 in Folksong USA, giving credit only to Warner. “Tom Dooley” became a commercial hit when the Kingston Trio recorded this version in 1957, giving credit to no one. This recording was largely responsible for initiating the urban folk music boom. Through Warner’s efforts, Proffitt finally became known as the source of the song, which created a demand both for his appearance at folk festivals and for his handmade banjos. These are made out of native hardwoods, and are characterized by a long, fretless neck, a small body with a wide wooden rim into which is set a small skin head, and a wooden back with a small soundhole. Although this style has been taken to be the authentic mountain folk banjo, it is only one of the many varieties of homemade mountain banjos. Proffitt made recordings for Folk Legacy Records and Folkways Records....

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