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  1. Etta Baker

From the recording Songs From Burke County

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Etta Baker
(Milan Miller)

Etta Lucille Reid was born on March 31, 1913. By the time she was three years old, she was learning guitar licks while sitting on the lap of her multi-instrumentalist father, Boone Reid. Through this early training, she developed her own fusion of mountain and blues styles, and grew up to be one the finest purveyors of the Piedmont Blues.

After marrying Lee Baker in 1936, Etta turned her focus to raising and supporting their nine children. She continued to play and sing for personal enjoyment, but aside from the occasional family gathering or party, Etta rarely performed in public.

A chance meeting in 1956 with folklorist Paul Clayton at the Cone Mansion in Blowing Rock, NC led to Etta’s first recording session. Clayton was wowed by her two-finger styled approach to the guitar, and was equally enamored with the authenticity of her craft. The next day, Clayton arrived at the Baker’s home to capture her talents with his portable tape recorder. These recordings went on to be included on Clayton’s project, Instrumental Music from the Southern Appalachians, one of the most influential records of the 1960’s folk movement.

By the early 1970’s, Etta had been working at a local textile mill for over two decades. With her children grown and now a widow, she made the decision to retire from the mill and focus more on her music. In 1991, her solo debut One Dime Blues was released on Rounder Records. In the years that followed, she went on to record three more albums, including a collaboration with Grammy winning bluesman Taj Mahal.

In addition to influencing droves of musicians that included iconic songwriter Bob Dylan, Etta received the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award, the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, and the prestigious North Carolina Award. Etta Baker passed away on September 23, 2006 at the age of 93.