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Arts & Culture

Former NPR Newscaster Is Old-Time Appalachian Musician

For many years, Paul Brown was a familiar newscast voice during Morning Edition. He spent 30 years in radio journalism before retiring to his home in Winston-Salem in 2013. Thursday Brown is coming to Davidson College, not to talk journalism, but do something else he’s equally passionate about - playing and singing old-time mountain music. 

Over the years, Brown has learned from some of the great North Carolina players and has appeared on about a dozen albums.

On the lure of traditional Appalachian music

It's not really performance music the way some of the newer musics, including bluegrass and modern country and pop are. A lot of this music was homemade and it was simply played and sung for people's personal enjoyment, the enjoyment of their families. Some of it is history and news-keeping music. In other words, the ballads tell stories of many real events. It's a form of community bonding and community record-keeping from a time when not as many people would be literate.

Playing mountain music is like journalism

I've always told people it's the same thing. It's journalism, in a sense. I was listening. I was hearing people's stories. I was taking down their messages as they expressed them through a song and reinterpreting them to other people when I decided to play or sang or to talk with folks about these musicians. So I was getting some early practice in journalism as an amateur folklorist and so I now realize that these two activities were not at all exclusive, that they were part of the same stream of interest and activity for me.

Paul Brown is also back on the radio with a weekly music show called Across The Blue Ridge.