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Carroll Best

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Carroll Best is not as well known as some banjo players, thanks to a career that wasn't aimed toward the national spotlight. But the lack of widespread fame is not a true reflection of his talent. The banjoist, whose full name was Hugh Carroll Best Jr., was a founding artisan of finger style banjo playing, or the melodic style. The early stages of his greatly admired technique were inherited from his family in North Carolina. It was a technique, Best was quoted as saying, that was passed down from one generation to another, beginning with his grandmother's mother. His father became a three-finger stylist, while his mom was accomplished as a clawhammer player. A desire to play the banjo hit him hard and early. By the time he'd turned 10 years old, Best was performing at regional square dances. There he took particular note of fiddlers such as Tommy Hunter, who played hornpipes that caught Best's attention and sparked a desire in him to play similarly on his banjo. Best's finest work on the banjo revolved around fiddle tunes, unlike other banjoists who emulated Don Reno or Earl Scruggs. He never turned his back on the fine early fiddle tunes, despite later learning standards that were rooted in jazz and bluegrass. A veteran of the Korean War, he frequently played jazz numbers and popular tunes while he served in the U.S. Navy. After his discharge, he made his living as a musician for a short period of time, working in a band led by brothers Wiley Morris and Zeke Morris. It's interesting to note that the Morris Brothers also helped jumpstart the careers of both Reno and Scruggs. Unhappy with the traveling that came with a professional musician's life, Best decided to revert to life on the farm. Although he gave up life on the road, he did not give up music. The banjo player performed locally with a number of neighboring musicians. He also appeared at festivals and competitions, and took home prizes from both the Asheville Folk Festival and Fiddler's Grove. Five years before he passed away in 1995, he also took home the Lunsford Award, an honored conferred by Mars Hill College's Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival. That same year, he was an instructor on the staff of the Tennessee Banjo Institute. ~ Linda Seida


1931 in North Carolina

Years Active:

'70s, '80s