Gene Boyd, known widely as The Fiddling Barber of Bristol, passed away on January 26 at the Bristol Regional Medical Center. He was 88 years of age and had been battling cancer for the past six months.
Born in 1927 in the Hickory Tree area of Tennessee, he got his first fiddle when he was 10 years old. After service in the US Navy during WWII, Gene took up his career as a barber, and operated the Star Barber Shop for many years in Bristol, where he lived his whole life.
It was in the Navy that Boyd learned his trade. According to family lore, Gene was stationed on a hurricane chase ship, and when they needed a barber, he volunteered. He had never cut hair until that moment, but read some books about it and picked it up quickly – though some of his old Navy buddies may have suffered from the experience!
Star Barber Shop was long a preferred hangout spot for bluegrass lovers, in Bristol and beyond. Picking sessions were a regular occurrence, and bluegrass stars like Bill Monroe, Doyle Lawson, and Del McCoury were regular visitors when their travels took them through east Tennessee, as were members of The Carter Family. Gene was close friends with legendary fiddler, Curly Ray Cline, who was also known to pop up in the shop.
Over the years, Boyd had been featured in national publications based around his persona as the Fiddling Barber, and the fact that he was a beloved character in his home town. He was also immortalized in the long-running Gasoline Alley comic strip, having served as the inspiration of the barber character that appeared often in the strip.
He was always encouraging of young pickers, and his own son and grandchildren have learned to be lovers and players of the bluegrass music he taught them. Gene’s descendants have worked on the road with such stellar acts as The James King Band, The Dixie Bee Liners, and Lonesome River Band.
Boyd will be greatly missed by a stream of friends and customers, who recognize that we have lost one of the great, natural proponents of our music.
A funeral service will be held this evening (1/28) at 7:00 p.m. at Fellowship Chapel in Bristol, VA. Visitation is scheduled for family and friends from 4:00-6:45 p.m. at the church. Internment will take place at 2:30 p.m. on Friday at the Mountain Home National Cemetery, with military honors.
R.I.P., Gene Boyd.