Raymond Fairchild is known for a banjo picking style that became a standard in bluegrass music. Born March 14, 1939, near Burnsville, North Carolina, he has long lived near the Qualla Boundary, the tribal lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in the Great Smoky Mountains. While not ofﬁcially a member of the tribe, Fairchild is of Cherokee descent, and he greatly values the tribe’s cultural heritage.
Fairchild identiﬁes with the Appalachian landscape to such an extent that he often calls his style “mountain music” rather than bluegrass. Speed, clarity, and timing characterize his banjo technique, which, as demonstrated in his signature song “Whoa Mule,” includes picking notes between the bridge and tailpiece and bending notes without the use of machine-made Scruggs pegs.
In the 1950s, the young Fairchild honed his craft by playing banjo for tips at the Hillbilly Campground in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. In 1975 he joined with the Crowe Brothers (Josh and Wayne) in forming a bluegrass band, the Maggie Valley Boys; the next year, Fairchild ﬁrst performed on the Grand Ole Opry. Wayne Crowe eventually left the band and was replaced by Fairchild family members Shane, Quentin, and Zane. After 1988, Raymond Fairchild appeared regularly at the Maggie Valley Opry House, which he and his wife created to promote bluegrass music.
The Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America named Fairchild Banjo Picker of the Year from 1989 to 1991. In 1989 he was inducted into that organization’s Hall of Greats. Country singer Tom T. Hall wrote a song entitled “The World According to Raymond,” portraying Fairchild as “rough, tough, and free,” an embodiment of the Appalachian spirit.
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"Raymond Fairchild," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2017, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 28 May 2017 <http://www.www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=77>
"Raymond Fairchild." (2017) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved May 28, 2017, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=77