Mountain Grown Music - traditional mountain music of Haywood County North Carolina

Leaving a legacy in song and dance

In the 1920 and '30s, folks in Western North Carolina took great pleasure in the old-time mountain music and dance. Dancing and playing music was a friendly past time shared by family and neighbors.

For Bascom Lamar Lunsford, known as the Minstrel of the Appalachians, and Sam Love Queen Sr., known as the Square Dance King, performing the hundreds of traditional songs and dances they learned from family members, neighbors and other residents of WNC became a lifelong adventure.

Born in Mars Hill in 1882, Lunsford contributed more material from his memory collection to the Archive of Folk Song than any other American. However, his promotion of folk arts through festivals is what has received the most attention—especially the 67-year-old Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville.

In 1927, Lunsford was approached by officials of the Asheville Chamber of Commerce who were organizing a Rhododendron Festival to lure tourists to the mountain city. They wanted him to involve local musicians, singers and dancers in the festival.

He agreed, and the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival was born in 1928. Today, the festival still reflects the mountain's own heritage—banjo picking, crafts and square dancing.

The purpose of the festival was to show what Lunsford and Queen considered to be the finest of the Appalachian ballad singers, fiddlers, banjoists and string bands. Prizes were offered for the best exhibition square dance teams. The dance teams were sponsored by surrounding communities, causing a growth of interest in square dancing in WNC, especially clogging. The Soco Gap Dance Team, lead by Sam Queen, won the 1928 Mountain Dance and Folk Festival's first square dance championship.

Lunsford and Queen later helped organize the National Folk Festival, which took place in St. Louis in 1934 , and Queen's dance team again won first prize for square dancing.

Lunsford performed up until his death in 1973, playing the fiddle and the banjo, leaving a legacy in song and dance.

Sam Queen

Sam Queen: the Square Dance King
By Todd Callaway

The rhythmic echo of feet shuffling on pavement can still be heard on warm summer evenings at downtown Waynesville’s old-time street dances. It’s a fond sound for many folks in Haywood County who remember nights long ago spent in the loft of a barn on Moody Farm in Maggie Valley, square dancing to the calls of Sam Love Queen, Sr.

Queen was born in 1889 in the shadow of Soco Mountain at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. He began to buck dance, or clog, when he was “hoe handle high” as he used to used to say. His grandmother, Sally, was his teacher. It was said that at 96 she could still dance a jig and cut the pigeon wing.

Queen was one of Haywood County’s most beloved residents and colorful characters. More than 5,000 people signed the register at his funeral. He did more to preserve the mountain square dance than any person around, and he helped to publicize the region, according to family and friends. “You danced in the front yard, in the barn or in the middle of the parlor floor,” said Joe Sam Queen, a grandson of Sam Queen. “It was the genuine folk dance. It was a social institution of the day. It’s where you courted, socialized with your neighbors. It was an art form.”

Though he died in 1969, Sam Queen’s influence on the mountain square dance scene is so strong that half a century later his interpretations of the old steps and calls still set the standard for dancers today. The mountain square dance, as Western North Carolinians call it—Appalachian square dance to others—has it roots in Irish jigs, Scottish flings, French quadrilles, English reels and singing games. It’s accentuated by clogging, a buck dance that gives way to individual expression and creativity.

Love of the dance ran in Queen’s blood. Folks remembered that his father, a giant of a mountain man in those days at 6 feet, 2 inches tall and 240 pounds in his prime, “was as light on his feet as a feather.” By his death, Queen was known far and wide as “the dancing-est man in the land” — the Square Dance King.

Gertrude Welche became Sam’s partner in 1934, and for nearly eight years shared the spotlight with him. Welche began dancing when she was 16. “Back in the 1930s, everybody went to the square dances,” Welche recalled. “Of course we knew everybody at the dances. And Sam made sure that before the night was finished that everybody had a turn.

“He was a good dancer, and he was so light on his feet, sometimes it seemed his feet didn’t even touch the floor. I loved dancing with him.” In the 1920s and ‘30s, dance and music were common attractions in Haywood County, and the person organizing barn dances at the time was usually Sam Queen.

“He’d get the band together, and he’d call the dances,” said Joe Sam Queen. “He was a charismatic person. He was an entertainer who made his livelihood entertaining folks at the Moody Farm barn dances and in the hotels, motels an inns in the county.”

All Sam Queen needed was a fiddle, a banjo and a good guitar, and he’d have a dance. It became a form of family entertainment that Queen eventually carried far beyond his beloved mountains. Queen’s Soco Gap dance team favored a low, smooth, shuffling step that took them through fast swirling figures and drew upon the old dances and the caller’s imagination. Within that framework, Queen gave free rein to individual expression.

“Sam, he really perfected a lot of dances that came from all over the world,” said Kyle Edwards, former Soco Gap Dance Team member and owner of the Stompin’ Grounds in Maggie Valley. “He put it all together into a pretty good product, and it was protected in this area because we were isolated.” Queen often said,

“Dance is the body language, and clogging allows a dancer to speak with all the gusto at his command,”

Queen is gone now, along with many of the original members of his Soco Gap Dance Team, but the legacy he and his team left behind lives on today in the numerous clogging and dance teams that have carried on his style. “My father invented the double-shuffle,” said Richard Queen, one of Sam’s sons and a former member of the dance team. “It’s shuffling twice as your feet hit the floor. Done almost in the wink of an eye. Before he came along with the double-shuffle, folks did a slower gliding step. Another thing about my father, he always wore broad red suspenders when he danced. It was sort of his trademark.”

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