The Old-Time Herald Volume 8, Number 6


David Holt: The Getting There Is the Fun

by Stephanie P. Ledgin

For more than two decades, David Holt has traveled the world sharing the sounds of Appalachia. A consummate storyteller in addition to expert multi-instrumentalist, Holt brings to life old traditions, making them accessible for younger generations to enjoy, appreciate, endear, and foster. For him, traditional music is living music, and it is essential that it be preserved and continued.

“I feel like I owe it to the old timers I learned from,” Holt began. “I was very lucky to see the end of an era. Many of the folks that were my mentors were born in the late 1800s. Their repertoires were set before the days of radio, records, or mass media. That gave their music a wonderful quirky soulfulness the world will never see again. I am talking about people like Dellie Norton and Berzilla Wallin from Sodom, North Carolina, Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham, Byard Ray, Etta Baker, Bessie Jones, 123-year-old Susie Brunson, and so many others. I hope I can bring a little part of that spirit to each concert I perform.”

Not only does Holt bring that spirit into view via music and stories, but also with his insightfully expressive photographs in which he has captured that same spirit in the images of his extraordinary subjects.
“I love photography and luckily have taken pictures of my mentors from when I first started,” Holt explained. “I like to have the photos on stage with me because it puts the music in some context for the audience—and inspires me to remember where the songs come from. I want to honor the people who have passed along so much.”

Holt went on to describe some of the people he has met and photographed along the way. “I got to know the oldest person in the world in 1993, 123-year-old Susie Brunson. She was born in 1870 and her parents were South Carolina slaves. The only instrument they had in the black community back then was the washboard. She asked me to learn to play, saying she ‘hadn’t heard a good one played in 112 years.’ She taught me the basics, which are quite different from Cajun washboard playing. It can put out an amazing amount of sound and rhythm.”

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