Dave Osborne of Greensboro’s Music Barn passes

Dave Osborne, 75, of Greensboro, NC, passed away on Wednesday, June 8, 2022. He served in the U.S. Army and performed in a traveling show that entertained the troops during the Vietnam War.

 As a young professional musician, Osborne played with country artist, Faron Young, and numerous others. He released a traditional bluegrass album, Southern Blend (Rich-R-Tone LP 8112), in 1981. Personnel included Osborne on banjo with Bobby Hicks on fiddle and Penny Parsons on bass. In 1982, Old Homestead released Banjo Harvest (OHS 80025) featuring Dave Osborne on the five-string and Hicks on fiddle.

Osborne was the founder, owner, and operator of the Music Barn on South Chapman Street in Greensboro, and has continued to sell musical instruments and offer music lessons since he opened the business 50 years ago. He also ran a live bluegrass music venue, Fiddlers’ Cove, on South Elm Street in Greensboro during the 1970s and ’80s. He was an avid collector of vintage instruments.

In a phone interview, Hicks shared his affection for Osborne. “He and I grew up together. I worked for him several years after I moved back from Las Vegas, teaching fiddle lessons. 

“I already miss him. He was one of my very best friends. I would go see him every chance I got. The last time I saw him, he was in the store, watching TV. He sold me some fine instruments for exactly what he paid for them. I still have them.”

Parsons expressed her grief and gratitude.

“I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dave Osborne, and send my condolences to his family. Like so many others, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Dave Osborne. Dave was a mentor to me in my early days of discovering bluegrass, just as he was to countless others. I first met him in 1978, and he immediately welcomed me into the fold at The Music Barn and Fiddler’s Cove, the retail store and nightclub that he ran in Greensboro.

He gave me my first job in the music business, managing the record and instruction book inventory at the Music Barn, which soon opened the door for me to work at Sugar Hill Records and to write for Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. He also invited me to join his band (Southern Blend) and encouraged and supported me in my attempts to learn to pick, teaching me how to play bass and sing harmony.

Through my friendship with him, I learned about the bluegrass world and met many local, regional, and nationally known musicians. And I was just one of many people he mentored. There were always young musicians around the Music Barn, and Dave supported them in any way he could.

Established, well-known musicians knew and loved Dave also. He regularly spoke with Earl Scruggs, Don Reno, Sonny Osborne, and many others. And he was great at his job, which is why the Music Barn continues to serve the central North Carolina music community to this day (with his nephew, Tommy Handy, running the business).

Dave was dedicated to his passion for the music and was a tireless supporter of his friends, family, and all of the musicians around him. He made our lives better and we all owe him a great debt of gratitude.

Rest In Peace, Dave. You’re leaving a great legacy!”

Rick Allred, former mandolinist with the Country Gentlemen, shared…

“I met Dave when I was a teenager. The first time I met him, it was like I’d known him all my life.

He did a lot for me. He talked to the Old Homestead label and got us an album [Rick Allred & Kenneth Berrier: Fire on the Mountain, Flat Burnin’, OHS 90125, 1979. The first cut on the instrumental album is South Elm Street that Allred wrote and named after Osborne’s venue.] 

When I found my Clawson mandolin, Dave loaned me the money. He said, ‘I’ll buy it, old son. You can pay me back whenever.’ We would play Fiddler’s Cove, then Kenneth, Dave, and I would go to Your House restaurant and drink coffee and talk life til 1:30 in the morning. He booked a lot of local bands and big name acts. He brought in the Country Gentlemen right after I went with them.”

Louisa Branscomb has fond memories. “I had the great fortune to be a young player in the early years of the venerable Fiddler’s Cove in Greensboro. What the Station Inn is to Nashville, Fiddler’s Cove was to Greensboro and the triad area, a welcoming gathering place to hear great music, where everyone was family. It was truly the heart of the community for so many great years.”

Area pickers chimed in with praises for Osborne.

“Dave Osborne enjoyed everything musical, especially the musician. You could always count on a friendly smile, sharing of his knowledge of musical instruments, sound advice, and above all his kindness. He will be missed,” stated North Carolina banjoist and Osborne’s longtime friend, Danny Bowers.

Tim and Tommy Mendenhall, twin brothers who pick banjo and mandolin respectively, shared comments. Tim said…

“Dave was a pillar to not only to the bluegrass triad music community, but to all folks’ music. 

My brother, Tom, and I have known Dave since we were teenagers. I got my Gibson RB-1 banjo from Dave when my banjo was stolen over 30 years ago. It is still my main banjo today. My younger brother, Jeff, took fiddle lessons from Bobby Hicks at the Music Barn.  

Dave owned Fiddler’s Cove and provided a place to hear Crowe, Spectrum, New Grass Revival, and for some of us local bluegrass a place to play. Dave was always personable and not only talked about music, but was always interested in you personally.  

I got to play in a band, Cornbread Revival, with him for several years. We played locally and got to hear stories. I played his famous -1 Granada several times in his back room (the one that Crowe bought during the last few years of his life). Dave was always so proud to own that banjo for such a long time. 

He had a real love of Flatt & Scruggs’ music and the old music and all things Earl. He introduced me to songs that I had never really heard from the F&S era.

RIP Dave, your work here on earth is done. I will miss Dave.”

Tom added, “I am pretty sad to know Dave has left this earth, but I know he suffered greatly after his stroke. He is playing banjo and fiddle in heaven. The memories walking through the Music Barn so many times, looking at instruments on display, and sometimes seeing his private collection always made me smile. Dave was a true friend for such a long time. We respected Dave and he was so incredibly nice. I have tears in my eyes thinking about when we were young going in there with our dad looking at his instruments. Dave knew his stuff and was a kind-hearted businessman, but also a musician who knew bluegrass music.”

Guitarist, Albert Vestal, shared a more recent memory. “When I went to see Dave in hospital after his stroke, I asked, ‘Do you think you can sing a little tenor?’ Dave bounced back, ‘Do you think you can sing a little lead?’ He put it right back on me!”

“Rest In Peace, Dave Osborne. He was a great guy and great resource for us young folks attempting to play banjo in the Piedmont-Triad area. Thankfully, he taught me that Earl Scruggs was king when I was about 13 years old,” area banjo picker, Matt Denny said. 

Dave Osborne is survived by his sister, Judy Arlene Handy; nephew, Tommy Handy, and wife Melissa; niece, Dena Dean and husband Marty.

Funeral services will be held on Saturday, June 11, 2022, at 2:00 p.m. at Wilkerson Funeral Home with Reverend Joe Chandler officiating. Burial will follow at Lakeview Memorial Park. The family will receive friends at Wilkerson Funeral Home on Friday, June 10, 2022, from 6:00-8:00 p.m.

R.I.P., Dave Osborne.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.