Tommy Edwards passes

Much-loved traditional bluegrass musician and teacher, Thomas ‘Tommy’ Edwards, a North Carolina native, passed away on Saturday morning, May 22, 2021.  He was 75 years old and had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this year.

Born in Siler City on July 20, 1945, he was a former middle school teacher, for decades teaching state history, serving as a sports coach and administrator in the Randolph and Chatham County Schools. Also, he served in the North Carolina National Guard.  

Since retirement he enjoyed playing music full-time and operating Tommy Edwards Antiques, Art & Music (formerly Red Gate Music and Antiques), in Pittsboro, North Carolina. 

He is part of a musical family with his mother and two aunts being singers and pianists while his father was a lead singer in a quartet. Edwards, who listened to rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm & blues as a child, began playing bluegrass music in high school and later at college where he salvaged a 1930s Gibson banjo. 

Subsequently, he switched to guitar and became a member of the only bluegrass band in Siler City, Tom and Jerry and The Beane Blossoms. 

In 1971 Edwards co-founded The Bluegrass Experience and the next year, the group won the World’s Championship Bluegrass Band title at the Union Grove Old Time Fiddlers and Bluegrass Festival, and twice he won its bluegrass guitar title. 

Having performed professionally for about 50 years, Edwards gained renown as a bluegrass musician – playing guitar, mandolin and banjo – and as an accomplished songwriter. 

He performed at thousands of shows, toured across the eastern states and played in Finland and Northern Ireland. 

Also, Edwards shared the stage or recorded with Jerry Stuart, Al McCanless, John Hartford, Alice Gerrard, Jimmy Martin, Bobby Hicks, Jack Lawrence, Mike Cross, and Andrew Marlin. 

He recorded four albums with The Bluegrass Experience and several solo projects. 

As well as playing with The Bluegrass Experience, he performed as Tommy Edwards and Friends, and with Carolina Lightning; Lonesome Heart; The Leroy Savage Group; and in the honkytonk/swing band The Hot Tub of Grits. 

He was the host of Bluegrass Saturday Night from 7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. on WLHC, 103.1 FM, Sanford, North Carolina. 

On the day prior to his passing Edwards received one of the North Carolina state’s highest honours, The Order of the Long Leaf Pine award from Governor Roy Cooper.

R.I.P. Tommy Edwards

A Discography:

The Bluegrass Experience

  • Collection (Crescent City Sound Studios CCSS 1232, released mid-1970s)
  • Live at the Pier (Roundhole 6564, 1976)
  • Experience This (Brush Creek No # , 2001)
  • Respect For Tradition (Salisbury Street SSR CD 1971, 2005)

Tommy Edwards

  • Good Company (Salisbury Street SSR CD 1945, 2002)
  • Old Songs/New Songs (Salisbury Street SSR CD 1963, 2006)
  • The Christmas Album (Salisbury Street SSR CD 1950, 2008)
  • Heartbroke And Lonesome (Salisbury Street SSR CD 1953, 2009)
  • North Carolina History, Mystery, Lore & More (Salisbury Street SSR CD 1978, 2011)
  • Ten Songs (Salisbury Street SSR CD 1935, 2017)

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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.