Etta Baker

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Etta Baker
Etta Baker in 2003
Etta Baker in 2003
Background information
Birth nameEtta Lucille Reid
Born(1913-03-31)March 31, 1913
OriginCaldwell County, North Carolina, U.S.
DiedSeptember 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.

Early life and career[edit]

She was born Etta Lucille Reid in Caldwell County, North Carolina, of African-American, Native American, and European-American heritage.[1][2] Baker began playing guitar at the age of three.[3][4] She was taught by her father, Boone Reid, a longtime player of the Piedmont blues on several instruments.[4] He was her only musical instructor.[5] 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.[6] There were eight Reid children, four girls and four boys. All but one survived into adulthood. Each of her siblings played instruments. Occasionally, Baker, her father, and her sister, Cora, would play together at dances on Saturday night.[4] 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.[6]

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.[7] Clayton recorded five solo guitar pieces by Baker, which were released as part of the 1956 album Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians, which was one of the first commercially released recordings of African American banjo music.[1] Baker was not monetarily compensated for these early recordings. Only after working with the Music Maker label later in life was she able to get rights back for this music.[4]

Baker has said that she gets inspiration for chords through her dreams, stating that it is "like putting a crossword puzzle together".[3] Baker has influenced many well-known musical artists, including Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.[4]

Etta married Lee Baker, a piano player, in 1936 after courting for six years.[1] They 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.[6] 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.

Awards and honors[edit]

Baker 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,[8] and the North Carolina Award in 2003. She was nominated for several Blues Music Awards (formerly the W. C. Handy Blues Awards): in the Traditional Blues Female Artist category in 1987 and 1989, and her album Railroad Bill in the Acoustic Album category in 2000.[9] Along with her sister, Cora Phillips, she received the Brown-Hudson Folklore Award from the North Carolina Folklore Society in 1982.[10]



  1. ^ a b c Govenar, Alan (2001). "Etta Baker: African American Guitarist". Masters of Traditional Arts: A Biographical Dictionary. Vol. 1 (A-J). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio. pp. 47–49. ISBN 1576072401. OCLC 47644303.
  2. ^ "Etta Baker and Cora Phillips: Carolina Breakdown". CD Baby. Archived from the original on February 18, 2006. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Our State | Etta Baker, Blues Guitarist | Season 1000, retrieved October 16, 2020
  4. ^ a b c d e "Etta Baker, Legend of Piedmont Blues". Retrieved April 5, 2016.
  5. ^ "The Etta Baker Project". Archived from the original on April 19, 2016. Retrieved April 5, 2016.
  6. ^ a b c "Interview G-0253: Etta Baker, Southern Oral History Program Database". Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC-Chapel Hill. Retrieved April 5, 2016.
  7. ^ Coltman, Bob (2008). Paul Clayton and the Folksong Revival. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 297. ISBN 978-0-8108-6132-9. Retrieved February 12, 2011.
  8. ^ "NEA National Heritage Fellowships 1991". National Endowment for the Arts. Archived from the original on September 27, 2020. Retrieved December 10, 2020.
  9. ^ "Award Winners and Nominees [search]". The Blues Foundation. 2017. Retrieved December 4, 2017.
  10. ^ "North Carolina Folklore Society | Promoting the Appreciation, Study, and Preservation of North Carolina's Rich Folk Cultural Heritages". Retrieved June 14, 2014.

External links[edit]