Last Updated on April 5, 2023
Many features of daily life come together to make up a community’s heritage. But nothing quite brings that heritage to life like music. Western North Carolina has a long and storied musical history, and Polk County is no exception.
Here are three toe-tapping tales about Polk County’s music history.
Music has always been part of mountain life
Settlers from the British Isles brought strong musical traditions with them to Appalachia in the 1700s. Traditional ballad singing pairs stories with music and was the inspiration for the 2000 film “Songcatcher”. These ballads were passed down by oral tradition for generations and serve as a window to local culture and history.
Polk County’s rich musical history includes ballad singing, along with shape note singing, legendary fiddle makers and players, old-time square dances, a ragtime pianist, and a tradition of gospel music. Mountain music in Polk County took inspiration from a variety of residents and influences, including the railroad, local history, musical miracles, African-American history, and even Tryon’s signature annual tradition, Coon Dog Day. Over time, these original styles and traditions would develop into more contemporary genres, such as modern folk music, bluegrass, gospel, and soul.
Tryon was the birthplace of a global music legend
In 1933, Eunice Kathleen Waymon was born in Tryon, NC. As a young woman, she studied classical piano in Asheville and graduated valedictorian of the Allen School in 1950. After studying one summer at Julliard, Waymon funded additional private music lessons by singing at a piano bar under the stage name Nina Simone. In 1958, Simone had her first and only Billboard top 20 success with a recording of George Gershwin’s “I Loves You, Porgy” from Porgy and Bess. Her career took off and her life would never be the same.
Nina Simone was an influential musician and activist during the Civil Rights Era. With her Appalachian background, classical training, and political interests, it’s no wonder she was able to shift her career seamlessly across multiple genres. Simone was known for performing blues, classical, folk, gospel, jazz, pop, R&B, and even cabaret. Today, she is regarded as one of the most influential recording artists of the 20th century.
Simone left the United States in the early 1970s, but her hometown never forgot her. In 2010, Tryon erected a statue in her honor along Trade Street. And her childhood home is currently being rehabilitated so that it can inspire young musicians and activists for generations to come.
Mountain music continues to inspire and evolve
From traditional ballad singing to Civil Rights-era activism to today, music remains an important facet of life and culture in Polk County. Many of today’s musicians have taken a note from musical styles of days past. Among our favorites are The Green River Boys (bluegrass), James Metcalf (gospel and bluegrass), Russ Jordan (old time and bluegrass), and Ben Seymour (old time). And mountain music will sound through the hills and valleys for generations to come. Programs like Pacolet JAM for children in grades 3–7 instruct young musicians on traditional folk music instruments.
There are many ways for music lovers to hear what’s happening. Local restaurants and venues host live musicians on a regular basis. The Tryon Fine Arts Center hosts events and educational opportunities throughout the year. And live music is the focal point of several annual community events. We especially enjoy the Summer Tracks Concert Series in Tryon, a community staple since 1999, and the Top of the Grade Concert Series in Saluda.
Get into the rhythm of life in Polk County
Polk County, NC has a history as rich as its music and entertainment scene. But locals also appreciate it for its outstanding natural features and proximity to iconic destinations. The county has elevations ranging from just under 800 feet at the Green and Broad Rivers to over 3,200 feet on Tryon Peak and Wildcat Spur. Most of Polk’s 20,000 residents cluster near the county’s three main towns of Saluda, Tryon, and Columbus. Tryon International Equestrian Center, a sprawling, $100-million equestrian center and luxury resort, operates nearby in Mill Spring.
Does that sound like the perfect lifestyle for you? Find your dream home in Polk County now!