Written by: Patrick Cash
November 8, 1958: On Saturday, November 22, famed Mars Hill native folklorist Bascom Lamar Lunsford presented a program on the tradition of American ballads for the campus of Mars Hill and its surrounding communities. Born on the campus of Mars Hill University on the site on which Cornwell Hall stands today, historians and locals recognize Bascom Lamar Lunsford for his invaluable efforts to collect and preserve the music, dance, and culture of the southern Appalachian region.
Identified as the “Minstrel of the Appalachians”, Mr. Lunsford career enjoyed a three-fold distinction with the field of folklore. Commended for his work as a performer, collector, and festival promoter, Mr. Lunsford gained the praise and recognition of both critics and his fellow folklorist for his work to preserve the music and dance of the region he calls home. Despite his refusal to commercialize the culture he loved so dearly, Mr. Lunsford remained near the forefront of his field. In 1938 he founded the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival located in Asheville, North Carolina (which can still be enjoyed today) and was invited to perform for the English monarchy in 1939 by President Franklin Roosevelt and the White House.
Mr. Lunsford was never one to forget where he was from and remained very aware of the connection that he and his family had with Mars Hill. In light of this connection, Mr. Lunsford made the decision in 1957 to donate his extensive collection of ballads and other materials he had collected and preserved over the years to Mars Hill College. Amongst this collection were the 12-inch aluminum discs, which he recorded for the Columbia University Library and the Library of Congress, as well as a large, oversize scrapbook, which contains a wealth of historic knowledge, pertaining to ballad collecting, music festivals, and accounts of other entertainers Mr. Lunsford met. Today, researchers can view the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Collection in the Southern Appalachian Archives, housed in the Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies on the campus of Mars Hill University.