He was a fiddler, banjo player, composer and teacher
born Byard (pronounced Bard) Sneed Ray in Sodom Laurel, Madison County,
North Carolina to a musical family of singers, storytellers, banjo players
and fiddlers. Starting to play
the fiddle from the time he was seven years old, he learned the majority of
his musical and storytelling skills from his parents and people that lived
in the local area and was awarded a grant from National Endowment for the
A busy musician during the ‘60s and ‘70s
he appeared on radio and television nationally and internationally and even
gave a performance for Queen Elizabeth II. He also recorded with his cousin,
the banjo player Obray Ramsey, the Laurel River Valley Boys who included
Johnny Ray, and worked in the studio in New York with White
Lightnin’ whose members included The Wondrous Joy Clouds, Chuck
Rainey, Herb Lovelle, Dave Frishberg, the guitarist Sam Brown.
The 1970s saw him putting together his own string
band, which he named The Appalachian Folk. His recordings are several and
include his own Traditional Music of Southern Applachia, A Twentieth
Century Bard as well as Second Spring by Matthews’
Southern Comfort, No Explanations by Len Novy and File Under Rock
and Fresh Air by White Lightnin’. In the movies he was the composer of
featured songs in 1971’s Zachariah.
A renowned banjo and fiddle teacher in various schools
and colleges, he taught and shared with others his own expertise in
old-time musicianship. This
included him being mentor to the storyteller Sheila Kay Adams and the
musician David Holt.
The book Byard
Ray: His Life and His Music (Traditional Music of Southern Appalachia)
was written by Joan Moser and published in 1981.
Carrying on the musical tradition his daughter, Lena,
and granddaughter, Donna Norton, are both working in industry, often as a