Singer, guitarist, and banjoist Frank Bode died at age 77 on January 9, 2017, at his home in Toast, North Carolina, just outside Mount Airy. The cause of death was a combination of heart and kidney failure.
Frank was very active in the years when attention focused heavily on remaining Round Peak musicians including Tommy Jarrell, Verlen Clifton, Paul Sutphin, and Ernest East. He played with them and with Benton Flippen and the Smokey Valley Boys; the Toast String Stretchers; Robert Sykes and the Surry County Boys; and other fiddlers and bands of the Northwest North Carolina-Southwest Virginia area. He frequently performed in bands on radio at WPAQ in Mount Airy and WFDD in Winston-Salem. He recorded with many of his musical colleagues. His highly regarded solo album, Been Riding With Old Mosby, was recorded by Eric Davidson and released by Smithsonian Folkways, and remains available.
An insurance agent and a salesman by profession, Frank was a friendly, generous, and quick-witted force around Surry County, North Carolina. He appreciated and welcomed the many old-time and bluegrass musicians and fans who visited from afar, some of whom settled in the area. He was an enthusiastic ambassador for old-time music who could often be seen jamming with out-of-towners at a fiddlers’ convention and later visiting with them, inquiring about their lives and interests. Along with his wife Ginger, also a fine guitarist, he was a valued participant at gatherings hosted by local senior fiddlers including Robert Sykes, Tommy Jarrell, and Benton Flippen. Many people admired his rich voice and sincere, unpretentious singing style. For years Frank took satisfaction in being the MC of the folk song contest at the Mount Airy Bluegrass and Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention, because he loved hearing others sing as much as he enjoyed singing himself.
In his later years he performed with young musicians including Erika Godfrey Testerman, and frequently expressed his wish that old-time music would continue. He delighted in seeing young people take it up. He fully appreciated the musical and social history he had witnessed and participated in, and would sometimes talk about how interesting the senior musicians around him had been and how valuable was their legacy. In 2015 he received a Master Artist Award from the Surry County Fiddlers’ Convention in Dobson.
Frank greatly enjoyed traveling. A conservative with an innovative streak, he was one of the very first minivan owners; I had never seen one for real when he first showed up in his. He would willingly volunteer to drive his vans crammed with band members and instruments to square dances, festivals, and other events up and down the East Coast. He performed at the National Folk Festival and other festivals with the Smokey Valley Boys, at the Carter Family Fold and the Swannanoa Gathering, and for the Folklore Society of Greater Washington, DC; taught at Pinewoods Camp in Massachusetts; and traveled with Benton Flippen, Terri McMurray, and me to the Berkeley Old Time Music Convention in California and to the University of Chicago Folk Festival. Trips with Frank and Ginger and our various bands were always huge fun and remain some of my most cherished memories.
Frank co-founded the Mount Airy Hometown Opry along with Verlen Clifton and me. The monthly old-time and bluegrass stage show at the Surry Arts Council’s Andy Griffith Playhouse in Mount Airy operated for about a dozen years starting in 1985. Its success demonstrated to an initially reluctant arts council that there was a place for the community’s own traditional music in the playhouse. That growing understanding, coming as the region’s tobacco and manufacturing economy declined, led to much greater arts council promotion of traditional music and its potential economic benefits, including tourism.
Franklin Lewis Bode was born in Guilford County, North Carolina, on March 16, 1939, to the late John Francis Bode and Beryl Holyfield Bode Warren. An early episode in his life story communicates just how self-directed he was. He left home at age nine with his younger brother John, dissatisfied with the way his stepfather was treating them. They boarded a bus for Mount Airy, intending to settle with relatives in the Dobson area. The two little boys succeeded in making the trip. Except for a couple of years in the late 1960s, Frank lived in Surry County for the rest of his life.
Frank leaves his wife, Ginger Sykes Bode; brothers John Bode and Tobie Warren; a son, Lewis Bode of Cana, Virginia; a daughter, Cheryl Hale of Mount Airy; and their spouses and families.