At times there is nothing like traditional music and nothing like honoring craftsmanship at its finest, particularly when the two are combined. This past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday EKU hosted the annual Appalachian Studies Association conference, and, as part of the event, the EKU Libraries held a reception honoring the late Homer Ledford at noon on Friday. Among those in attendance were Colista Ledford, Homer's wife, and Bill Johnson, member of the Backroom Bluegrass Band and a good friend of Homer's. Loyal Jones of Berea, who has known Homer since the mid-1940s, remembered his dear friend in his remarks to the audience, and then three fine Kentucky musicians, Donna Lamb, Lewis Lamb, and J.R. Parrett, performed for those at the reception. For this event the EKU Archives created a display about Homer Ledford as a musician and as a luthier; in the display case were two of Homer's instruments -- a dulcibro and a dulcimer with a beautifully carved duck on the scroll of the instrument. Both of these instruments, plus at least a dozen more, have been loaned to the EKU Archives by Mrs. Ledford; she has also given the Archives her husband's papers, which are currently being processed.
What made this event especially meaningful were the instruments that were played. Lewis performed on the hog lot fiddle made by Homer as a teen-ager, but J.R. -- well, he had the opportunity to play three different banjos by Homer. A fretless banjo from 1963 and a bluegrass banjo are part of the collection housed by the University Archives. But Bill Johnson, to my delight, brought his own banjo -- number 13 and the last made by Homer -- and so J.R. got to play all three. Bill also brought one of Homer's earliest dulcimers, created when he was still living at his family home in Ivyton, Tennessee, before he attended Berea and EKU. I played "Simple Gifts" on the dulcimer before the event, and Bill later let a conference attendee who loves the dulcimer to play it as well. Bill's presence and his generosity in bringing the instruments, added immeasurably to the reception. Thanks, Bill.
As for the banjos -- well, J.R. enjoyed all three. Afterwards, he told several of us that he could not pick out one that he liked the best; he had enjoyed all three, and thought that all three felt good and sounded good. At least two people in attendance said the same about their Ledford dulcimers. These comments echo a passage in Dulcimer Maker: The Craft of Homer Ledford, a book about Homer by R. Gerald Alvey, first published in 1984 and then reprinted in 2003 by the University Press of Kentucky. Alvey writes, "It perhaps seems uncanny, but I have never met anyone who did not like Homer's dulcimers. Each of the numerous customers I questioned expressed more than satisfaction with his instrument; most were proud of their dulcimers, insisted that I see them, and wanted to know whether I owned one." (p. 37). I believe Bill Johnson knows why this is so. He feels the same about his Ledford-created instruments, and told me,thoughtfully, that Homer had put a little bit of himself in each instrument he made. That makes the privilege of having Homer's papers and taking care of some of his prized instruments all the more meaningful for the EKU Archives.