Frank Proffitt

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Frank Proffitt
Birth name Frank Noah Proffitt
Born June 1, 1913
Laurel Bloomery, Tennessee, USA
Origin Beech Mountain, North Carolina
Died November 24, 1965(1965-11-24) (aged 52)
Genres Folk
Occupation(s) farmer, cultural guardian, infrequent songwriter
Instruments banjo, appalachian dulcimer, guitar
Years active 1930s – 1960s
Labels Folkway, Folk Legacy

Frank Noah Proffitt (June 1, 1913 – November 24, 1965) was an Appalachian old time banjoist who helped popularize the song "Tom Dooley" and was a key figure in inspiring musicians of the 1960s and 1970s to play the banjo.

He was born in Laurel Bloomery, Tennessee and was raised in the Reese area of Watauga County, North Carolina where he worked in a variety of jobs and lived on a farm with his wife and six children. He grew tobacco, worked as a carpenter and in a spark plug factory.[1] He was known for his carpentry skill; Proffitt's fretless banjos and dulcimers were homemade.[1][2]

In 1937, Frank Proffitt met folksong collector Frank Warner. Warner was searching out a dulcimer builder and thus began a 30-year friendship and song swapping. Warner collected his songs and shared them with Alan Lomax, who included many, including the ballad "Tom Dooley" that Warner had learned from Proffitt, in his book, Folksong U.S.A.. Proffitt had learned the song from his aunt Nancy Prather, who had in turn learnt it from her mother Edy Adeline (Pardue) Proffitt, who had known both Dula (locally pronounced "Dooley") and Laura Foster. The Kingston Trio learned "Tom Dooley" from a recording by Warner, and were eventually required by court judgement to acknowledge their debt to Proffitt and pay him royalties for the use of the song.[2]

Proffitt recorded "Tom Dooley" and other ballad songs in 1961, on the album Frank Proffitt Sings Folk Songs, edited by Warner and issued by Folkways Records. A second set of Proffitt's recordings, Frank Proffitt of Reece NC: Traditional Songs and Ballads of Appalachia, was released in 1962,[2] and Proffitt performed at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival.[3] He also performed at the 1964 New York World's Fair, and recorded several more tracks released on the compilation album High Atmosphere: Ballads and Banjo Tunes from Virginia and North Carolina.[2]

Proffitt died in 1965, aged 52. The Frank Proffitt Memorial Album was released by Folk Legacy Records in 1969, followed by a tribute album, Nothing Seems Better To Me: The Music of Frank Proffitt and North Carolina, was issued in 2000.[2]


  • Frank Proffitt Sings Folk Songs, Folkways Records[4]
  • Frank Proffitt of Reece NC, Folk Legacy[5]
  • Frank Proffitt Memorial Album, Folk Legacy [6]
  • High Atmosphere: Ballads and Banjo Tunes from Virginia and North Carolina, Rounder Records