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Andrew Rowan Summers

Andrew Rowan Summers was a native Virginian, a graduate of the University of Virginia, where he took a law degree but decided to pursue a career in music in his spare time during the 1940s and 1950s. Infatuated with the songs of Appalachia and their origins, he became a serious folk song collector and ended up spending a good deal of time tracking down veteran older singers, as well as songs that he tried to preserve in their oldest forms, and authentic instruments. It was while attending the White Top Folk Festival that he first heard the traditional mountain dulcimer-- which is to say, the plucked dulcimer, as distinct from the hammered dulcimer -- played by a man in his eighties who was too frail to actually participate in the proceedings. Summers got to know the man, and when he died two years later, he willed Summers his instrument. The attorney-turned-musicologist proceeded to perfect an authentic antiquated playing style as he had heard from the man who bequeathed him the instrument; his style ended up echoing the classical approach to the instrument that was in use prior to the 1950s and 1960s folk revivals, which offered a more accessible and popular approach. Among numerous other performances, Summers was part of a 1946 showcase organized by Alan Lomax at Columbia University in New York, where he performed with Texas Gladden, Hobart Smith, and Jean Ritchie at the university's McMillan Theater. In 1940, Summers released his first album, Old World Ballads in America, on Columbia. It would take 11 years before his association with Folkways Records came to fruition, which included not only traditional folk music but an album of Christmas music as well. His debut album for Folkways, Unquiet Grave (1951), was followed by Seeds of Love. Later releases included Lady Gay and Christmas Carols, and an album simply entitled Andrew Rowan Summers in 1957. Along with Mellinger Henry, Maurice Matteson, and the renowned John Jacob Niles, he was responsible for introducing and popularizing the instrument among modern listeners in the 1950s and early '60s, especially with that series of recordings as well as his performances. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
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