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Etta Baker - Piedmont Blues Guitarist

Updated on November 16, 2011
Etta Baker and her guitar
Etta Baker and her guitar | Source

Etta Baker was born on March 13, 1913 and raised in North Western North Carolina in Caldwell County in the area of Morganton, NC. She was an American Folk legend playing six string, twelve string guitars and banjo. She lived in Morganton, NC most of her life and passed away at the age of 93 in Fairfax, Va.

Etta Baker played what is referred to as Piedmont Blues which is a finger picking style of playing where the thumb of the right hand alternates bass strings while the index, middle and sometimes ring finger are busy playing the melody of the tune. The Piedmont guitar styles were also made famous by guitarist Reverend Gary Davis and Pinky Anderson both from Grey Court, SC. The sounds of the Piedmont stylings are full, rich and often sound like more than one musician is playing. This style has been heavily influential on modern guitarist such as Jorma Kaukonen, Stephen Grossman and others that had the opportunity to study under Davis and Baker.

Etta Baker first recorded in 1956 on a compilation album of Appalachian musicians then worked in a textile mill before retiring at age 60 to pursue a music career. It was not until 1990 that Etta returned to the studio to record another which was all hers and titled "One Dime Blues". She recorded a few more albums one with Taj Mahal and another in 2006 with Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

The style of guitar playing has been called Parlor Style as young ladies at the turn of the century would learn to play piano or guitar to entertain in the "parlor" during times long before the radio. This style of playing was adopted by the great Merle Travis who took it further to develop his Travis style guitar playing.

I had the pleasure of meeting Etta Baker twice once at the Merlefest back in 1999 and once at the Word of Mouth Productions annual Bluesfest in Columbia, sc. She was a pleasure to be around, took great pride in what she did and was wonderful to talk to. She was another musical treasure of North Carolina and a tribute to never giving up on your dreams. She recorded her first solo album around the age of 80. If you like the blues do yourself a favor and give a listen to a legend, Etta Baker.


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