Roscoe Holcomb

Birth name Roscoe Halcomb
Born September 5, 1912
Origin Daisy, Kentucky, USA

Died February 1, 1981 (aged 68)
Genres Folk, bluegrass, country, gospel, old-time music
Occupation(s) Miner, construction worker, Farmer, Musician

Roscoe Holcomb, (born as Roscoe Halcomb September 5, 1912 – died February 1, 1981) was an American singer, banjo player, and guitarist from Daisy, Kentucky. A prominent figure in Appalachian folk music, Holcomb was the inspiration for the term “high, lonesome sound,” coined by folklorist and friend John Cohen. The “high lonesome sound” term is now used to describe bluegrass singing, although Holcomb was not, strictly speaking, a bluegrass performer.

Holcomb’s repertoire included old-time music, hymns, traditional music and blues ballads. In addition to playing the banjo and guitar, he was a competent harmonica and fiddle player, and sang many of his most memorable songs a cappella.

Holcomb sang in a falsetto deeply informed by the Old Regular Baptist vocal tradition. Bob Dylan, a fan of Holcomb, described his singing as possessing “an untamed sense of control.” He was also admired by the Stanley Brothers, and Eric Clapton cited Holcomb as his favorite country musician.

A coal miner, construction laborer and farmer for much of his life, Holcomb was not recorded until 1958, after which his career as a professional musician was bolstered by the folk revival in the 1960s. Holcomb gave his last live performance in 1978. Due to what he described as injuries he sustained during his long career as a laborer, Holcomb was eventually unable to work for more than short periods, and his later income came primarily from his music. Suffering from asthma and emphysema as a result of working in coal mines, he died in a nursing home in 1981, at the age of 68.

Holcomb is buried at the Arch Halcomb Cemetery in Leatherwood, Kentucky. His tombstone bears his given name of Halcomb rather than Holcomb.


Holcomb’s discography includes:

Mountain Music of Kentucky, Folkways Records and Service Corp., 1960 (reissued on Smithsonian Folkways in 1996, with other artists)
The Music of Roscoe Holcomb and Wade Ward, Folkways Records and Service Corp., 1962
Friends of Old Time Music, Folkways Records, 1964
The High Lonesome Sound, Folkways Records and Service Corp., 1965, (reissued on Smithsonian Folkways in 1998)
Close to Home, Folkways Records and Service Corp., 1975
There is No Eye: Music for Photographs, Smithsonian Folkways, 2001
Classic Mountain Songs from Smithsonian Folkways, Smithsonian Folkways, 2002
Classic Old-Time Music from Smithsonian Folkways, Smithsonian Folkways, 2003
Classic Blues from Smithsonian Folkways, Vol. 2, Smithsonian Folkways, 2003
An Untamed Sense of Control, Smithsonian Folkways, 2003
Back Roads to Cold Mountain, Smithsonian Folkways, 2004
“San Diego State Folk Festival 1972”, Tompkins Square, 2015

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