On May 8, 1995, Carroll Best was shot dead by his brother Sam. He was 64 years of age.
Hugh Carroll Best Jr, from the Crabtree community of Haywood County, North Carolina, was a master of the melodic or fiddle-style of playing the banjo.
Best grew up working on his family’s 125-acre mountain farm and began playing the banjo when five years of age.
He learned to play thanks to his parents who passed down their talents from several generations of banjo players. This was particularly strong on his mother’s side of the family.
By the age of 10 Best was performing at regional square dances, including at the Maggie Valley Playhouse. Another musician, fiddler Tommy Hunter, who played hornpipes, was another influence at about this time.
During his time in the Navy – he saw active service in Korea – he was likely to play jazz numbers and popular tunes.
Afterwards, Best worked briefly as a professional musician playing banjo with Zeke and Wiley Morris. However, he didn’t enjoy life on the road and quickly returned to farming.
While not working professionally, he continued to enjoy music, performing locally with a number of neighboring musicians. He also appeared at festivals and competitions, taking home prizes from both the Asheville Folk Festival and the Fiddler’s Grove festival. In 1990 he was honored with the Lunsford Award, conferred by Mars Hill College’s Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival.
Since the 1990s Carroll Best has been recognised as a pioneer of the melodic style, which entered the mainstream of bluegrass banjo through the example of such players as Bill Keith; Eric Weissberg and Marshall Brickman; and Bobby Thompson. A long appreciation of Best’s talents was recently published in Old-Time Herald and with the liner notes to Carroll Best and the White Oak String Band: Old-Time Bluegrass from the Great Smokey Mountains, 1956 & 1959, he was shown to be a dedicated, versatile and innovative musician with a distinct personal style. Also, he was well-liked and respected in his home region.
He was part of the faculty at the 1990 Tennessee Banjo Institute, and was a featured performer on the Masters of the Banjo tour organized by the National Council for the Traditional Arts.
In 1994 he was presented with the North Carolina Heritage Award.
- Carroll Best Band: Pure Mountain Melodys (sic) (Skyline, 1982)
- Carroll Best Band with Tommy Hunter (Ivy Creek, 1993, cassette only)
- Say Old Man, Can you Play the Banjo (Copper Creek, 2001)
- Carroll Best and the White Oak String Band: Old-Time Bluegrass from the Great Smokey Mountains, 1956 & 1959 (GSM, 2014)
Thanks are due to Richard Hawkins of the Bluegrass Ireland Blog for alerting me to this event.