Tommy Thompson

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Tommy Thompson

1937-2003, St. Albans, Kanawha County

After a stint as a Coast Guard officer in New Orleans where he heard many of the great old time jazz players and was introduced to Cajun music, Thompson entered the graduate program in Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1963. He divided his time between five-string banjo and academia.

In 1966, he formed the Hollow Rock String Band which became a seminal force in the folk revival of that time. After Hollow Rock dissolved, Thompson continued to perform locally and at fiddlers’ conventions, including the prestigious gathering at Union Grove, NC, where he took first prize in the World Champion Old Time Banjo contest in 1971.

That same year, he co-founded the original Red Clay Ramblers, which he anchored for 22 years during which the band toured North America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, doing four U.S. State Department tours. In 1974, the Ramblers began its long involvement with American musical theatre, writing and performing a number of off-Broadway plays. The Rambers’ music was also featured on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, in Sam Shepard’s film Far North, and on TV shows including Northern Exposure and Ryan’s Hope.

Thompson also wrote and performed an acclaimed one-man show about American blackface minstrelsy, The Last Song of John Proffit. In 1995, the North Carolina Folklore Society honored Thompson with its coveted Brown-Hudson Folklore Award and the Orange County, NC, Board of Commissioners passed a resolution in his honor.