The Old-Time Herald Volume 14, Number 11

Raised Up in Old-Time: Rhoda Kemp’s Life With the Banjo
By Malcom Smith
Photo: Hans Carstensen

he regular Sunday Old-Time Jam at the Floyd Country Store, 40 miles south of Roanoke, Virginia, is rocking. Twenty or so musicians from across southern Virginia are following a local tune led by Mac Traynham and Shay Garriock, who are twin-fiddling. Chairs in the jam circle are hard to come by as a hundred or so onlookers are eating a late lunch, dining on fine deserts or just gawking at the action. Several flatfooters have entered the middle of the circle and are beating time like a group metronome. But something is missing. One white plastic chair in the circle sits noticeably empty.

Just as the group finishes a rousing version of “Carroll County Breakdown,” all eyes turn to the empty chair. A petite white-haired woman with sparkly blouse and a well-worn but meticulously polished banjo plops herself into a chair, smiles, and says, “Howdy.” A cry of “Miss Rhoda, it’s so good to see you,” comes from all around. Right away, the fiddlers break into “Ragtime Annie,” and 89-year-old Rhoda Kemp begins holding court on her banjo.

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