Etta Baker

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Note: For the African American civil rights activist, see Ella Baker.

Etta Baker
Birth name Etta Lucille Reid
Born (1913-03-31)March 31, 1913
Origin Caldwell County, North Carolina, U.S.
Died September 23, 2006(2006-09-23) (aged 93)
Fairfax, Virginia, U.S.

Etta Baker (March 31, 1913 – September 23, 2006) was an American Piedmont blues guitarist and singer from North Carolina.


She was born Etta Lucille Reid in Caldwell County, North Carolina, of African-American, Native American, and European-American heritage.[1] She began playing the guitar at the age of three. She was taught by her father, Boone Reid, a longtime player of the Piedmont blues on several instruments.[2] He was her only musical instructor.[3] She played both the 6-string and the 12-string acoustic guitar and the five-string banjo. Baker played the Piedmont blues for nearly ninety years.

The family moved to Keysville, Virginia, in 1916.[4] There were eight Reid children, four girls and four boys. All but one survived into adulthood. Boone Reid worked a series of jobs during the 1910s and 1920s, occasionally taking work in factories and shipyards in other states. The rest of the family lived with an uncle. By the time Etta Reid was fourteen, the entire family worked on a tobacco farm in southern Virginia, which meant that they were together. She dropped out of school after tenth grade.[5]

Baker was first recorded in the summer of 1956, after she and her father happened across the folksinger Paul Clayton while visiting the Cone mansion, in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, near their home in Morganton. Baker's father asked Clayton to listen to his daughter playing her signature "One Dime Blues". Clayton was impressed and arrived at the Baker house with his tape recorder the next day, recording several songs.[6]

Baker has shared her knowledge with many well-known musical artists, including Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.[7] She received the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award from the North Carolina Arts Council in 1989, a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1991, and the North Carolina Award in 2003. Along with her sister, Cora Phillips, she received the Brown-Hudson Folklore Award from the North Carolina Folklore Society in 1982.[8]

Baker had nine children, one of whom was killed in the Vietnam War in 1967, the same year her husband died. For a while after these deaths, she stopped playing, but found she missed the consolation the blues brought her.[9] She last lived in Morganton, North Carolina, and died at the age of 93 in Fairfax, Virginia, while visiting a daughter who had suffered a stroke.





  1. ^ [1] Archived February 18, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ "Etta Baker, Legend of Piedmont Blues". Retrieved 2016-04-05. 
  3. ^ "The Etta Baker Project". Retrieved 2016-04-05. 
  4. ^ "G-0253 :: Southern Oral History Program Interview Database". Retrieved 2016-04-05. 
  5. ^ "G-0253 :: Southern Oral History Program Interview Database". Retrieved 2016-04-06. 
  6. ^ Coltman, Bob (2008). Paul Clayton and the Folksong Revival. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 297. ISBN 0-8108-6132-1. Retrieved 2011-02-12. 
  7. ^ "Etta Baker, Legend of Piedmont Blues". Retrieved 2016-04-05. 
  8. ^ "North Carolina Folklore Society | Promoting the Appreciation, Study, and Preservation of North Carolina’s Rich Folk Cultural Heritages". Retrieved 2014-06-14. 
  9. ^ "G-0253 :: Southern Oral History Program Interview Database". Retrieved 2016-04-05. 

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