Doc Hopkins (1900–1988)

Updated: July 25, 2011

Early country singer, banjo player, and guitarist.

Doctor Howard Hopkins was a popular performer on mid- western radio in the 1930s and 1940s. His melodious voice and accomplished three-finger-and-thumb guitar style were showcased on some of the era’s most popular country music broadcasts, including the WLS National Barn Dance and the WJJD Suppertime Frolic.

Rural traditions marked his life as well as his work. Hopkins’s first name, “Doctor,” reflected the belief that as the seventh son he had healing powers. Born January 26, 1900, in Harlan County, Kentucky, Hopkins began playing banjo during his boyhood on an instrument his father crafted for him from a cigar box, a cedar neck, and a possum skin. The Hopkins family moved to nearby Rockcastle County, where Doc’s neighbors included his future radio colleagues John Lair, Karl Davis, and Harty Taylor. At the age of nine or ten, Hopkins met and sang for Dakota Jack Pearsley, a medicine show performer; after Hopkins’s return from World War I, Pearsley gave him his first job as a musician.

In the 1920s, Doc played steel guitar in a U.S. military band and performed with Davis and Taylor in the Kentucky Krazy Kats. In 1930 Lair invited his schoolmates to Chicago, and Hopkins named the new band the Cumberland Ridge Runners. Hopkins also played solo, first recording in 1931 for Paramount and later for the American Record Corporation and Decca. The bulk of his recorded work, how- ever, resided in numerous radio transcriptions for the music publisher M. M. Cole. During the urban folk revival of the 1960s, Doc began playing at college folk festivals and coffeehouses and was recorded for a performer-and-repertoire study by the John Edwards Memorial Foundation at UCLA. One of his last appearances occurred in 1982 at the National Folk Festival, where he was the event’s oldest performer, still creatively combining the spoken words, music, picking styles, and sound effects of the medicine shows of his childhood.

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MLA Style

"Doc Hopkins," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2018, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 17 Oct 2018 <>

APA Style

"Doc Hopkins." (2018) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved October 17, 2018, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia:

Doc Hopkins