Bobby McMillon

Ballad Singing

Bobby McMillon

Recipient Information

Location

Burnsville (Yancey County), North Carolina

Medium

Ballad Singing

Year of Award

2020

Grant or Fellowship

Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship

Grant Amount

$9,000

Artist Biography

Both a collector and performer of traditional ballads and song, Bobby McMillon of Yancey County has dedicated his life to preserving the oral tradition of Central Appalachia. He began his life’s work at age twelve, as he learned song from his grandmother, other relatives, and neighbors growing up in Eastern Tennessee. In his early teens, he was tutored in documentation and fieldwork methods by Cratis Williams, the “Grandfather of Appalachian Studies,” at Appalachian State University.

McMillon is also a dedicated teacher. He has worked in schools since 1978 as a visiting artist and has taught and performed at many local, regional, and national festivals and gatherings. Forever a folklorist, he encourages student and audiences to appreciate their own family background and roots. He elaborates, “I have seven-hundred papers of sayings, stories, and jokes (some of them would peel your eyelids) from school children that I encouraged to go home and record their own people.” McMillon is a North Carolina Heritage Award winner, National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship nominee, and a recipient of the North Carolina Folk Apprenticeship grant.

In addition to these student collections, McMillon has a library of notebooks filled with handwritten songs, stories, jokes, and sayings—decades of knowledge from his travels in Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina. Through this fellowship, McMillon will undertake a project of life-long learning preservation. He plans to digitize his collections and record his research and personal memoir using modern technology. He hopes to be able to learn how to use modern fieldwork equipment and other technology to, as he puts it, “bring my story, this cornucopia of mountain life, to the web, and print.”