The Old-Time Herald Volume 9, Number 8

Dance Beat
Arthur Grimes:  African-American Appalachian Clogger
by Phil Jamison

. . . These days the old-time music and dance scene is predominantly white. It is rare to see an African-American musician or dancer at Mt. Airy, Clifftop, or other music festivals where old-time or bluegrass music is being played. There are a few, such as fiddler Earl White, who was an early member of the Green Grass Cloggers, but how many other black old-time musicians or dancers do you know? That is why I remember the day, a number of years ago, when I first saw Arthur Grimes. He was clogging in cowboy boots at a square dance I was calling at Merlefest in Wilkes County, North Carolina. Since that time, we have become friends, and we have shared the dance floor many times. But it wasn’t until last December, when I interviewed him at the Boone Drug Store in Boone, that I learned how he got involved in old-time dancing.

Arthur Grimes was born in 1958, in Watauga County, an Appalachian county in western North Carolina with an African-American population of less than two percent. One of eight children, he grew up in the Junaluska neighborhood of Boone, a black community consisting of several dozen families. Though he is aware of the African-American roots of old-time music and dance, Arthur did not learn his dancing from his family or the black community.

As a teenager in the early ’70s, Arthur discovered that he liked old-time and bluegrass music, and even before he learned to dance to it, he attended the Union Grove Festival with some white friends from Boone. He says:

I used to listen to it. I’d buy old bluegrass albums and listen to them, but I didn’t know how to dance then, and that’s what gave me the idea that I could teach myself how to dance. I wanted to do something different...and that’s why I chose bluegrass and old-time music and clog dancing... I didn’t see no blacks doing that kind of thing, so that’s why I wanted to see if I could get into something like that.

Arthur started to teach himself how to dance in 1975. “I taught myself on my mama’s back porch, of all places. [Laughs] I just kept doing it every evening when I got out of school. . . ” His family teased him about his dancing and called him, “country boy.”  “It took me a while," he says, "before I’d go out in public and do it though. I didn’t know if I was doing it right.” His family never saw Arthur perform until two years ago [in 2002] when he volunteered to clog at his niece’s wedding reception in Boone and danced to a CD of Earl Scrugg’s “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”

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