Benton Flippen passes

We have learned of the passing of Benton Flippen earlier this week. He died on Tuesday (June 28) at the age of 90.

Flippen was a noted old time fiddler and banjo player in the north central area of North Carolina, and is regarded as one of the instigators of what has become known as the Round Peak style. He has a number of recordings, most recently Fiddler’s Dream in 2005, and was quite highly regarded among serious students of old time music, and by those who have an appreciation for true mountain music.

Tom Joyce, staff reporter with The Mount Airy News, has published a detailed obituary which recalls the many highlights of Flippen’s life, including his association with WPAQ.

The legendary status Flippen rose to as a musician mirrored the evolution of WPAQ, a AM radio station in Mount Airy dedicated to the old-time format.

He held the distinction of performing at the station for its first broadcast on Feb. 2, 1948 as a member of the Green Valley Boys, although he was most known for his work with Benton Flippen and the Smokey Valley Boys.

“Then in April of 2007, he was here again when we started streaming over the Internet,” station owner Kelly Epperson said of a development that allowed the entire world access to local old-time sounds. Epperson pointed out that Flippen was part of an exclusive club from the earlier years of the genre which also included such performers as Fred Cockerham, Kyle Creed, Tommy Jarrell and Earnest East.

While Epperson has seen many musicians come and go over the years, Benton Flippen occupies a special place in his heart.

“He was the one that got me interested in old-time music,” said the station owner, who recalls hearing an album featuring Flippen in the living room of his dad years ago. “That is how I got interested in old-time music, listening to Benton Flippen play ‘Lost Indian.’”

Epperson also referred to the unusual style of Flippen:

“He had such large hands. He had his own way of playing…that is what was really remarkable about him,” the WPAQ official said. “The thing that impressed me so much was how he came up with a style that was unique. I think that is why he won so many fiddlers conventions.”

Flippen and his band captured multiple championships at both the Galax, Va., and Union Grove conventions over the years. Eperson added, “Even if you did not have much listening experience, you could tell it was Benton as soon as the bow was drawn across the strings.”

You can read the full piece online.

Rest In Peace, fiddle man.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.