Before his death in 2003, Ray Hicks was an unassuming Appalachian icon whose anonymity nearly doomed him to obscurity. Born and raised on Old Beech Mountain near Boone, North Carolina, Hicks gained unlikely celebrity as a storyteller of national renown.
I stumbled across the above link today. It reminded me I should put up something about Ray Hicks on theses pages.
I don’t remember when it was I first heard of Ray Hicks, but I know it’s been a long time ago. I probably first read about him in The National Geographic magazine. Later I would imagine I ran across him in other magazines before I finally styarted reading about him on the internet.
You can find out a lot about Ray’s life and legacy on the website that has been set up for just that purpose…
From Another Time: The Legacy of Ray Hicks
By Connie Regan-Blake
We have been looking up to him from the beginning…
the lanky 6′ 7″ man of the mountains, who came down from North Carolina, bearing old-world gifts that have enriched our modern lives beyond measure.
I first met Ray Hicks on October 7, 1973, in Jonesborough, Tennessee. It was an afternoon that changed my life . . . and the course of storytelling in the United States. The setting was the first National Storytelling Festival.
On that same day, Ray met his first microphone. The mic was perched on a flatbed truck and loomed above him. Ray stared up at it as if the mic was a preying mantis. Ray was ramrod straight, telling his Jack tale like the audience was in the sky and yet he charmed the 35 people sitting on folding chairs in front of him. From that Sunday afternoon, Ray Hicks has welcomed his mission.
Remembering The Father Of Jack Tales ~ Ray Hicks: A Legend in His Own Time
By Sherrie Noris
Ray Hicks: August 29, 1922 – April 20, 2003
News of his death came as no great surprise to many of us; his condition had begun to deteriorate over the last couple of years as cancer invaded his body, though each time he “took a turn for the worse,” he would bounce back again. That is, until Easter Sunday, when lilies on Old Mountain Road in the Old Beech Mountain Community were at their loveliest and the region’s “father of jack-tales” was a few miles over the ridge in a nursing home, taking his last breath.
Ray Hicks needed no introduction – his name was a household word for many miles around; not just in the mountains that he loved and trampled over throughout his lifetime – but in far-away cities, like Washington, DC, where the Smithsonian Institution once presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award and closer home, in Jonesborough, Tennessee, where his natural storytelling abilities helped establish one of the nation’s largest yarn-spinner’s annual festivals.
Ray Hicks was a legend in his own time – and one that will live on in our hearts and minds for many years to come.
Ray grew up hearing his daddy telling Jack Tales, a family ritual each night as they gathered around the fire. Later, he too, learned to tell stories, and fast became a highly sought-after entertainer in adjoining communities. He never forgot who invited him to his first public appearance, and told us several times, “Miss Jennie Love, over at Cove Creek was the first one who ever had me come to school and talk to her young’uns. She offered me three dollars fer my trouble, but I didn’t want to take hit.” He added, “After that, they was a wantin’ me ever’wher.”
On his death the New York Times published this in his obituary….
Mr. Hicks spoke in a dialect scholars describe as Elizabethan, even Chaucerian. Yarns with roots in myths that gave rise to European fairy tales tumbled from his tongue. They had been passed seemingly intact through eight generations of his family, among the first white people in their nook of Appalachia.
Mr. Hicks became perhaps the best-known traditional storyteller in the United States, said Jimmy Neil Smith, president of the International Story Center in Jonesborough, Tenn., where Mr. Hicks appeared yearly.
In 1973 he was the first storyteller invited to the first National Storytelling Festival, which claimed the title because it seemed to be the only one. He was the only performer invited every year to the Jonesborough event. More than 200 such events are now held every year.
Each of the above quotes is just a snippit from the referenced articles. Take the time and visit the sites linked to and really discover what a legend the man was and is.
For another look check out this video:
- Film by Alan Lomax
- Produced by Mike Dibb, Penny Forster
- Cinematographer: Jim Brown, Nicholas Echeverria
- Sound: Jack Gordeon, Robert Zieniewicz
- Editing: Mark Tobin, Howard Sharp with Jenny Campbell
- Copyright: 1991, Association for Cultural Equity
- 58 minutes, Color
- Original format: 3/4 tape, 1991
Alan Lomax travels through the Southern Appalachians investigating the songs, dances, and religious rituals of the descendents of the Scotch-Irish frontiers people who have made the mountains their home for centuries. Preachers, fiddlers, moonshiners, cloggers and square dancers recount the good times and the hard times of rural life. Performances by Tommy Jarrell; Janette Carter; Ray and Stanley Hicks; Frank Proffitt, Jr.; Sheila Kay Adams; and Ray Fairchild, the man reputed to be the fastest banjo-picker in the world.via FolkStreams » Appalachian Journey.
You can view the film in it’s entirety streamed from the link above.
I remember on my last long trip to Valle Crucis, I spent some time wandering the mountain roads on the backside of Beech Mountain and noticing that there were a whole lot of mailboxes that had the name Hicks on them. I remember thinking then about the storytelling Hicks of Beech and wondering if they were related…
Take some time to enjoy a little cultural history of these mountains we love…