Blue Ridge JAM is in its third year of serving the Cashiers, NC area. The chapter is sponsored by Mountain Youth Charities, a 501c3 organization. They meet on the campus of Blue Ridge School; students are welcome from across the Cashiers plateau region. The program meets on Monday afternoons, 3-5 PM, 12 times per semester. Classes are offered for students in grades 3-12 in guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandolin. In Pre-JAM class, students play ukulele and become accustomed to group instruction before taking part in regular JAM classes. Students also have opportunities to try autoharp, dulcimer and upright bass. Everyone also takes part in “Prime Time” which includes games, dance, crafts, stories, guest speakers and guest performers, and “Community Time” where everyone comes together at the end of the day to share what they have learned.
Tuition is $75 per semester, with a $20 instrument rental fee. Many students participate tuition-free thanks to generous donors.
Betty Collins Brown is a singer/songwriter. She learned from her Virginia coal-mining father how to play guitar by ear when she was a teenager. After retirement from Jackson County Schools in 2012, she began learning to play a unique style of mountain banjo. Betty’s accomplishments include two published works: “Ballads, Blues and Blessings”, a book co-written with her sister, Kathy Barber, published in 2010; and a short story “Brogans” published in “Women’s Spaces, Women’s Places, an Anthology” by Celia Miles and Nancy Dillingham in 2011. Betty has written and recorded several original songs about family life in the Appalachian Mountains. She sings and records with her siblings, the Collins Sisters, with a local gospel group, the Children of Zion, and the Spirit-Filled Trio. Her latest CD “Singing Appalachian Stories” contains 14 of her original songs. She is teaching beginning “frailing”, clawhammer, and index/thumb lead banjo style at Blue Ridge.
Sarah Hall serves as program director for JAM-Blue Ridge. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music Theory and Composition from Appalachian State and a Masters in Music Education from UNC-G. She is currently music teacher for Blue Ridge School and Blue Ridge Early College. She has previously taught for Pfeiffer University, Catawba College, and Western Carolina University and in public schools in Rowan and Mecklenburg counties. Her other jobs have included Director of Education for a symphony orchestra, arts reporter for a newspaper, magazine editor, church music director, founding director of the Amadeus Youth Choir and founder of the Salisbury (NC) School of Music.
Gerald Haskins has been making music for almost 60 years. Starting as a piano player in a Dixieland band in the early ‘60s, he later became the front man and upright bass player in a jazz trio. After a short stint on bass with the San Francisco Civic Orchestra, he formed a folk duo (on guitar) which toured extensively in Mexico and the Caribbean before finally winding up teaching guitar in England. Along the way he has done broadcasts of his poetry for the BBC, some of which have been picked up by theater companies, translated into regional dialects, and performed around the UK. His latest love is the ukulele, which as he says “…is a great instrument because it only has four strings, while we have five fingers for fretting!”
Debbie Lassiter has been playing violin for over 50 years, starting lessons and playing with the school orchestra in 5th grade in Chicago. After moving to Atlanta, she played with the Dekalb County Community Orchestra and Atlanta Emory Orchestra during high school and college. Since moving to Highlands/Cashiers she has been performing for 20 years with the Summer Chapel gospel/bluegrass band and Nocturne, a classical chamber trio. Debbie is chairperson of the Blue Ridge JAM Advisory Council and assists teaching the JAM fiddle class. With her love of music and children she brings a wealth of experience and energy to the program.
Jennifer McKee is song and dance leader and instrumental assistant for JAM-Blue Ridge. Jennifer teaches fifth and sixth grade language arts and social studies for Blue Ridge School, dedicating her Monday afternoons to JAM as a volunteer. She grew up in a musical family — singing, dancing, and playing a variety of instruments with her parents and siblings. Her family ties run deep in Western NC, and she is well-versed in local history.
Kelly Smith played piano, trumpet, guitar and banjo before he took up fiddle in his late 20s. He got his first fiddle and some lessons from Bill Haney, who had learned from Benny Martin. He was in the original CHTSO band out of the Esso Club in Clemson, SC, and the Spittoono Festivals. He has been playing around western North Carolina for the last 30 years, and currently resides in Salem, SC. You can catch him playing bass with the Wild Hog Band for Thursday Night Bluegrass at the Ugly Dog Pub in Cashiers.
Dusk Weaver has taught for Blue Ridge JAM since its beginning in Fall 2016. He served as teacher, then director, of Jackson County JAM May 2012 – June 2017. Dusk is well known in the region as a singer/songwriter and recording artist, having released two CD albums and a CD single of original music that reviewers coined “StorySong Americana.” Dusk is also an award-winning author and a featured member of the Poetic Genius Society. His children’s storybook entitled “Bill Willy the Wild (who isn’t a boy at all!)”came out in 2017.
Norma Jean Zahner took “Beginning Guitar” as an elective in the public school system in Ann Arbor, Michigan before moving to Highlands, NC in the fall of 1973. With encouragement and tutoring from her local high school teachers, Doyle Calloway, and other musicians she has been performing throughout the Southeast at public and private events for 40 years.
Debbie Lassiter, chairperson
Bob Merriman, treasurer
For more information, please contact:
Sarah Hall, Program Director
95 Bobcat Dr.
Cashiers, NC 28717
The musical roots of Jackson County run deep into the wellspring of traditional Appalachian music. One of the most famous early musicians in Jackson County was Samantha Biddix Bumgarner who, in 1924, was the first woman to record “hillbilly” music. Her accompanist on the recording was Eva Smathers Davis of Sylva, NC. Samantha’s father, Has Biddix, was also a fiddler of some reknown. Today, there are still many musicians of high caliber in Jackson County like the notable Queen Family, The Fiddlin’ Dills Sisters, Darren Nicholson (award winning mandolin player with Balsam Range), Rye Holler Boys and the up and coming bluegrass/gospel band Mountain Faith. Click here for more information on the musical heritage of Jackson County.