Clyde Franklin remembered

Clyde Franklin, former proprietor of The Bluegrass Center in Asheville, NC,  passed away on April 15, 2019, at home in Johnson City, Tennessee, after a long illness. He was 80 years old. 

Clyde Ray Franklin, Jr. was born in Somers, New York, on October 16, 1938. He was a descendant of Benjamin Franklin on his father’s side of the family and a Mayflower descendant on his mother’s side. Both of his parents were doctors.

In recent years Franklin has been a prominent member of the Asheville, North Carolina, bluegrass music community. However, prior to that he taught bluegrass banjo and guitar, country guitar, and classical guitar at the Newton Music Conservatory in the Boston area.

In addition, he played bluegrass music with several bands in the New England area including clubs in Harvard Square. 

Richard S Brown, Cambridge, Massachusetts, resident and Associate Director of the Monroe Style Mandolin Camp, shares a few memories ….. 

“I can recall Clyde moving here around 1967. He, of course, played the banjo and lived in North Carolina for a while before moving to Massachusetts. 

Clyde was a really interesting person with several interests, including vintage bluegrass instruments.

I played a lot of music with Clyde during the summer of 1968. We had a band with his old friend John Coster, guitar player and song-writer who was attending Harvard. 

We played for political rallies and coffee house jobs that were left over from a band that I had played in earlier with the Kane brothers.

At the end of the year Clyde decided to stop playing banjo and took up classical guitar. 

He later returned to bluegrass and opened a music store in Concord, Massachusetts. Clyde gave lessons and sold instruments.

He also began performing again under the band name of Keys to the Highway. One of the versions of that band included Dave Haney (later Dave played with Joe Val) and his wife Rose.

The last news that I had heard about Clyde, was that he had moved to North Carolina.”

Franklin established The Bluegrass Center in Asheville in 1985. He was proud to carry on the tradition of the bluegrass Gospel jams and traditional bluegrass music jams held every Tuesday and Friday night in Asheville. 

His proudest achievement was sharing his knowledge of bluegrass music and continuing the legacy of bluegrass with all generations. 

One young bluegrass enthusiast that Franklin took under his wing is Swedish bluegrass musician, teacher, composer, historian and fellow North Carolinian Jan Johansson …   

“Clyde had many great qualities. First of all, he did not care who you were or where you came from or what your religious or political views were. First and foremost his concern was the arts and literature and music. 

He studied English literature in college and was in avid reader. He could quote CS Lewis or Tolkien and Clyde himself was a masterful limerick writer.

His generosity was known all over the world as his Bluegrass Center served as a group home for wayward musicians.

When I first met him in 1986 at his store on Hendersonville Road in Asheville, North Carolina, I immediately felt a kinship and a deep connection.

In the late 1980s Clyde developed a passion for wildlife photography. He would get on the Blue Ridge Parkway and stay gone for hours. One time we got very worried since he didn’t show up at night after one of those photographic excursions. When he showed up the following afternoon, we were extremely relieved to see him still alive. Turns out that he was so into a certain scene that before he knew it, it had gotten too dark to see enough to walk back safely. He decided instead of trying to go back to the car to just spend the night out there on the mountain side. A wrong step and it could be a 3,000-foot drop.

His account of hearing the frightening sounds of various large animals the night on that mountain was both humorous and scary.”

Franklin’s artistic talents went beyond music, he was a superb landscape photographer, songwriter and Limerick writer. His love of words and his vocabulary was legendary, anyone who was around him for any length of time increased their vocabulary.

A Celebration of Franklin’s life will be held on Saturday, May 4, 2019, at Groce Funeral Home in Asheville, North Carolina. 

Visitation will be at 2:00 p.m., and the service will start at 3:00 p.m., immediately followed by a bluegrass jam until 8:00. 

All are welcomed and encouraged to bring your instruments to honour Clyde.

R.I.P. Clyde Franklin 

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.