William Thomas “Tom” Norman passed away Sunday, June 12 in Galax, Virginia, after a long decline in health. Tom was the left-handed longtime banjo player with Whit Sizemore and the Shady Mountain Ramblers. He is survived by his wife Marie, who was dedicated to his care.
Tom was born in Lambsburg, Virginia, on March 28, 1931, into a musical family and community. At the age of seven, he started learning banjo from his mother, sitting on her lap. By the time he was 10, it was said that he was well on his way to mastering the clawhammer banjo: quite a feat, considering he played a right-handed banjo upside-down.
Tom and his family moved to the Galax area when he was 14, and he remained there, except for his time serving in the military in the Korean War. He was employed at a local furniture factory for 50 years. Coming across a piece of wood that would make a good banjo, he’d often take it to his neighbor and good friend Kyle Creed.
Not forgetting his original musical family, for years he would drive to Lambsburg and bring Fred Cockerham to spend Sundays playing music along with him and his five sisters. All of his sisters played guitar or dulcimer, and sang. Fred’s bluesy fiddling was a strong influence on Tom’s choice of notes.
In 1974 Tom started playing along with Whit Sizemore. For the next 36, years he and Whit and the Shady Mountain Boys could usually be found among the winners at local fiddlers’ conventions. Tom’s banjo version of “Back Step” and his unaccompanied singing of “Man of Constant Sorrow” were frequent winners. The Shady Mountain Ramblers also supplied the music for square dances at the Fairview Ruritan, among other venues. Their music is available on the Heritage label.
One of the best Round Peak banjo players, he never let having to hold the banjo upside-down stand in the way of great music.