Saturday, November 26th, 2016, at 7:30 p.m., the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia, will present a concert of old time music by Larry Sigmon and Martha Spencer – the Unique Sound of the Mountains. If you ever saw Larry Sigmon and the Unique Sound of the Mountains, you know the sound was unlike anything you ever heard before. Over the course of more than ten albums and several years of performing, Larry Sigmon and his late partner Barbara Poole continuously brought the house down with a variety of fast-paced mountain music tunes fueled by Sigmon’s high-speed claw hammer banjo picking and Poole’s infectious “heartbeat” bass plucking. While there were several groups out there that could get you onto the dance floor, no old time band could wear out your clogging shoes faster than the Unique Sound of the Mountains.
Both Larry and Barbara played mountain music from childhood, learning their craft from their families while growing up surrounded by the rich musical heritage and scenic beauty of southern Virginia. Larry first learned to play guitar at the age of 15 and eventually taught himself to play the banjo and breath harp. His father, fiddler Lewis Sigmon, also taught him how to perform classic dance songs in the true raw southern style. As for Barbara, she was playing her stand-up bass as early as age 13 in her brother Jimmy’s band. Both musicians spent several years playing in other groups before they first jammed together at a local fiddlers’ convention. The more the duo performed together, the more their audiences grew until Larry and Barbara decided to work together long-term, dubbing themselves the Unique Sound of the Mountains. That partnership continued and flourished until Barbara’s death in 2008 after a long battle with cancer.
Throughout their partnership, Larry and Barbara battled loss and sickness but nonetheless remained dedicated to their music and their fan base and never missed a show. They played alongside the likes of Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, Jimmy Martin, Grandpa Jones, Mac Wiseman, Jim & Jessie, Porter Wagner, Mike Snider, and Johnny and June Carter Cash. In 2002, Barbara performed with Johnny and June Carter Cash on June’s final album, the critically acclaimed Wildwood Flower. Larry also had the prestige of taking part in workshops at the Tennessee Banjo Institute, where his skills were cherished by banjo players from across the country. In September 2005, the Unique Sound of the Mountains performed live on the Grand Ole Opry (a life-long dream of Barbara’s), leaving their audience screaming for more as the curtain lowered.
Larry Sigmon and Barbara Poole were truly an American treasure, delighting fans who often drove hundreds of miles just for a chance to dance to their rollicking and unforgettable mountain music. Proud craftsmen who knew hundreds of both classic and obscure musical treasures, they often left audiences wondering how so many sounds can come out of only two people.
After Barbara’s death, Larry stopped performing publicly. He and his wife Linda cared for Larry’s father during an extended illness. Never able to find anyone who could play quite the way Barbara did, Larry wasn’t sure he would play again. Enter Martha Spencer of the Whitetop Mountain Band. Martha grew up surrounded by music at her Whitetop Mountain home. Her parents are Emily and Thornton Spencer of the Whitetop Mountain Band. With a voice like an angel, she could easily sing in an angel band. There aren’t many instruments she doesn’t play – guitar, banjo, fiddle, and bass are examples. A world-class dancer, she’s truly a born entertainer. Her infectious smile lights up the room, and audiences are spell-bound by her.
Martha personifies old time, mountain music. Her love for what she does is unmistakable, and it shines through clearly in every performance. Martha grew up playing on the stage of the Carter Family Fold. The Whitetop Mountain Band is one of only two or three bands still playing on the Fold stage today who were there performing 41 years ago when Janette Carter started music shows in the old A.P. Carter Store.
At our 2015 annual festival in August, Larry came mostly to jam. When a series of accidents on the interstate prevented Big Country Bluegrass from taking the stage, Larry and Martha took the stage and brought the house down. As the Fold’s director, I have rarely seen an audience react as our festival audience did. I was moved to tears, and they received at least four standing ovations. Since that time, they have played the Albert Hash Festival and several other shows. The Fold could not be more excited to welcome anyone back than we are to welcome Larry and Martha as the Unique Sound of the Mountains.
Don’t miss the Unique Sound of the Mountains at the Carter Fold. Admission to the concert is $10 for adults, $2 for children 6 to 11, under age 6 free. This will mark the third performance for the new Unique Sound of the Mountains – Larry and Martha. No one knows more old time music than Larry Sigmon. Martha Spencer may be as close to that as it gets. It is an honor and a privilege for the Fold to welcome back the Unique Sound of the Mountains. Be sure to bring your dancing shoes. It’s impossible to sit still when Larry and Martha hit the stage! For more information on the duo, check them out on the internet.
Carter Family Memorial Music Center, Incorporated, is a nonprofit, rural arts organization established to preserve traditional, acoustic, mountain music. For further information, go to http://www.carterfamilyfold.org or http://www.carterfamilyfold.com. Shows from the Carter Family Fold can be accessed at http://www.carterfoldshow.com. Partial funding for programs at the center is provided by the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. For recorded information on upcoming shows at the Fold, call 276-386-6054. The Fold is on Facebook – page Carter Fold – and Twitter – @carterfoldinfo.