Christopher Tucker

Christopher Tucker, 2017 Mountain Youth Talent Contest participant.

Western North Carolina has nurtured a variety of mountain music traditions: ballad singing, blues, bluegrass, old-time and sacred music. These evolved from traditions brought over from Europe and Africa, and some represent a powerful blend of musical elements from the two continents. Some are thriving and are quite popular while others are carried on by a dedicated few.


This place we live in is steeped in beauty and heritage. The waterfalls, the crafts and the music are a reason we live here, or remain here, and why many people travel from around the world to visit us.

The music and stories of the Appalachian mountains used to be passed on to the next generation as families sat on the porch or around the kitchen table. Today family traditions have changed and many of us are lucky to slow down enough to have a meal together at the table.

If we are to preserve mountain song and story traditions we must be more intentional about teaching and supporting young people who want to learn about them. The terrific Junior Appalachian Musicians program is helping to carry on these traditions by teaching traditional music to youth at both Cullowhee Valley School and Blue Ridge School. 4-H supports traditional music and storytelling by hosting the Mountain Youth Talent Contests which are held each spring and summer.

The first one of the season will occur at Sylva’s Greening Up the Mountains Festival in April.

4-H youth development encourages young people to be independent and master skills – whether through leadership, showing an animal, making a presentation, playing an instrument, or learning to use a microscope. For many years a preeminent focus of 4-H has been youth presentations or demonstrations. Participation in the Mountain Youth Talent Contest is a way to participate in this 4-H tradition while also carrying forward mountain traditions. This activity helps children and youth build self-confidence and leadership and work toward mastering a traditional Appalachian instrument or storytelling. You do not need to be a 4-H member to participate.

Youth will showcase their talents in a variety of individual and group instrumental categories. This year we return to awarding prize money for first place winners by age as well as first and second Best of Show winners. The top two Best of Show winners from each of three community contests move on to the final contest on the Heritage Stage at Mountain Heritage Day at Western Carolina University in September.

Information about the Mountain Youth Talent Contests is available at the Cooperative Extension/4-H website: at the 4-H blog: on Facebook at Heritage Alive Mountain Youth Talent Contest of WNC.

Call the Jackson County 4-H agent, Heather Gordon, for any additional details at 586-4009.

Heather Gordon is extension agent, 4-H Youth Development, Jackson County Center, N.C. Cooperative Extension.