Chatham News + Record Workers Report
Legendary Chatham County musician Tommy Edwards, a famend guitar participant and trainer whose efficiency profession spanned half a century, died Saturday morning — sooner or later after receiving The Order of the Lengthy Leaf Pine award, the state’s highest civilian honor, from Gov. Roy Cooper.
Edwards, who additionally taught historical past in Chatham County faculties, was recognized with pancreatic most cancers earlier this 12 months. He was 75 and is survived by his spouse, Cindy.
“Tommy was merely the best, kindest, funniest, lovin’est, pickin’est man on earth,” fan William Lewis, the cultural arts supervisor for the City of Cary, wrote in a tribute on Fb. “Boy, heaven simply received a great one.”
A local of Siler Metropolis, Edwards was mentioned to be as previous as bluegrass itself. He was born July 20, 1945 — the identical 12 months that Earl Scruggs joined Invoice Monroe’s “Blue Grass Boys” and ushered in a brand new musical style. “The Bluegrass Expertise,” the band Edwards later co-founded, thrilled bluegrass music followers with dwell and, after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic final 12 months, digital performances. 2021 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the group’s founding.
Warren Ort of Pittsboro mentioned he and his spouse Barbara grew to become huge followers of Edwards after shifting to Fearrington Village 12 years in the past.
“He performed on the Fearrington Roost a variety of instances a 12 months, the Bynum Entrance Porch, the previous Normal Retailer, and we all the time made it a degree to attend the Bluegrass Expertise’s New 12 months’s Eve present in Sanford,” he mentioned. “Tommy Edwards was a superb musician, a great particular person and a terrific buddy of Chatham County. He will likely be missed.”
The personable Edwards left an indelible impression on those that got here to know him and his music, in keeping with fan Hank Becker.
“He was such an inspiration — not only for his enjoying and band-leading however for the sort, light and heat particular person he was,” Becker mentioned. “It’s merely surprising. We are going to embrace his music endlessly.”
Along with his musicianship, Edwards labored for many years in Chatham and Randolph faculties as a trainer, coach and administrator. He additionally operated an antiques and music retailer on Hillsboro Road in Pittsboro. Earlier than the pandemic, on many nights and weekends you would discover him in solo performances or enjoying with The Bluegrass Expertise or different bands.
All through his life, Edwards gained renown as a participant and songwriter, twice profitable the world championship title for bluegrass guitar on the Union Grove Previous Time Fiddlers and Bluegrass Pageant. He additionally served within the North Carolina Nationwide Guard, and taught state historical past for many years in Chatham County public faculties.
Buddies and fellow musicians paint a portrait of a person with phenomenal expertise and never-ending help for these round him.
“Should you ever met him, you’ll acknowledge that he touched your life indirectly,” Rick Lafleur, a band-mate and decades-long buddy of Edwards, told the News & Observer of Raleigh. “He was a pleasure to be round. He actually was.”
“Tommy was distinctive,” mentioned David Brower, the chief director of PineCone, a nonprofit devoted to selling and preserving folks arts and music. “His proper hand was simply explosive, when it comes to how nimble he labored by means of tunes.”
Jim Watson, a musician and longtime buddy of Edwards, described him as “hardcore bluegrass, all the best way.”
“He was, in some methods, the quintessential bluegrass musician,” Watson added, emphasizing he was a flexible singer and participant with mastery over many songs and devices.
Joe Newberry, one other musician who had recognized Edwards for many years, mentioned his time as a trainer influenced his habits as a musician.
“He was all the time sharing what he knew, with audiences and with younger folks,” he mentioned. “That was a trademark of Tommy, that he beloved enjoying with of us and was not above studying new licks regardless that he was a longtime participant. He listened deep, and performed simply the identical.”
Newberry mentioned Edwards was the form of particular person to by no means miss a present, all the time displaying as much as help his associates and fellow musicians.
To Brower, Edwards “epitomized the spirit of bluegrass and previous time music from the Piedmont, the place strangers can sit down and play tunes and get to know one another by means of the music.”
And that’s simply how the musician met Lafleur, Watson and Newberry — all of whom recall first assembly Edwards by means of the music.
“It’s a kind of issues the place the music types a robust bond,” Lafleur mentioned.
Edwards’ band, The Bluegrass Expertise, had deliberate to have a good time its fiftieth anniversary this month.
“Tommy was by no means a star. He didn’t have any gold data,” Brower mentioned. “However he performed with ardour. He performed with coronary heart. Music was an enormous a part of his life.”
“Every time individuals collect in our area to play a tune, we’ll take into consideration Tommy,” Newberry mentioned. “How he was all the time prepared for the following tune, the following present.”
‘A worthwhile endeavor’
In a 2019 interview with the News + Record, Edwards mentioned that “having mother and father and prolonged household that sang, danced and performed devices confirmed me that music was a worthwhile endeavor. And the truth that members of the family supported my efforts was extremely encouraging.”
He additionally talked about what remained tough about music — and straightforward — for him.
“I believe for a lot of starting gamers one of many hardest components of studying to play is the toughening of the fingertips in order that enjoying will not be painful,” he mentioned. “The primary day I owned a guitar I performed till my fingers bled. And as somebody who has been enjoying 60 plus years, it’s nonetheless arduous for me to study sophisticated chord fingering in addition to to grasp the place unusual chords slot in sure items of music. The best half is that one can use a couple of fundamental chords to accompany a bunch of songs from the campfire to the live performance stage.”
The center faculty college students he taught benefited from his expertise as a musician and songwriter, Edwards mentioned, though they might have hardly ever seen his guitar.
“As an educator working with center grades college students, I felt it was necessary to take care of an expert method within the classroom, so I used to be not bringing the guitar to highschool to play and sing for the scholars besides on particular events,” he advised the Information + Report. “Generally I might play guitar together with a recording that we used on the ultimate day of the two-week square-dancing program in bodily schooling class. And after we held a ‘historical past day’ I’d play with visiting folks musicians. And I didn’t draw back from public performances within the county the place college students and fogeys may see me play as a part of The Bluegrass Expertise.
“Being a trainer has helped my songwriting, not a lot with material, however with having to study to speak successfully with individuals of all ages and backgrounds,” he mentioned. “There’s plenty of writing that comes with the educating career and hopefully that has helped make a few of my lyrics simpler to grasp. And I like to write down songs about historical past (my main space of academic experience) that (hopefully) educate in addition to entertain.”
‘There to entertain’
4 Oaks musician Russell Johnson, who knew Edwards for 40 years, remembered his brother taking him to see Edwards play at Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill his first week at school.
“I went each week that I may,” Johnson wrote on Fb. “That’s after I met Tommy. He was all the time able to take a request, speak to anybody within the crowd, choose the strings off the guitar, and boy, he was there to entertain.”
Not lengthy after, Edwards heard Johnson play mandolin. “We would offer you a name to fill in someday,” he advised Johnson.
“That may as properly been Invoice Monroe asking me to be a ‘Bluegrass Boy,’” Johnson wrote. “I’m grateful for understanding Tommy these previous 40 years and for the legacy he has left behind for bluegrass, flatpickers, bandleaders and entertainers. Relaxation in peace, Tommy.”
Performer and trainer Jefferson Hart recalled Edwards as “a pure delight each time I used to be fortunate sufficient to run into him.”
“Only a beautiful man who was very variety to me and my household, really went out of his manner, each time we noticed him,” he wrote in a tribute on Fb. “Simply a kind of those that made you be ok with humanity when the world itself is seemingly bursting aside on the seams.”
Funeral preparations are incomplete. Test www.donaldsonfuneralhome.com for updates.
The Information & Observer of Raleigh contributed to this story.
Chapelboro.com has partnered with the Chatham Information + Report so as to convey extra Chatham-focused tales to our viewers.
The Chatham News + Record is Chatham County’s supply for native information and journalism. The Chatham Information, established in 1924, and the Chatham Report, based in 1878, have come collectively to higher serve the Chatham neighborhood because the Chatham Information + Report. Protecting information, enterprise, sports activities and extra, the Information + Report is working to strengthen neighborhood ties by means of compelling protection of life in Chatham County.