Ralph Lee Smith

Traditional Appalachian Music

Bio

Ralph Lee Smith plays traditional music on the Appalachian dulcimer, and is widely regarded as the foremost authority on the dulcimer's history and its music.  In addition, he makes people fall in love with the instrument!

Ralph lived in Greenwich Village in the 1960s and participated in the Folk Revival.  In the Village, he heard the traditional Kentucky dulcimer player, Jean Ritchie, perform.  At that time, the dulcimer was a rare instrument. Excited by the dulcimer and its music, Ralph bought one, taught himself to play, and played at Village gatherings where young people were rediscovering old-time Appalachian music.

In the 1970s, Ralph became increasingly interested in the dulcimer's history.  He made many Appalachian field trips, meeting old-time dulcimer makers and players in Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky.  He also acquired a number of antique and traditional dulcimers, which he uses in demonstrations and displays.

Ralph has given performances and demonstrations at the White House, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, the Mountain Heritage Center, and colleges, folk festivals, folk music clubs and dulcimer clubs, civic groups, and historic sites. He has taught courses in Mountain Dulcimer Traditions and Appalachian music at Dulcimer Weeks, Dulcimer Weekends and Workshops at Appalachian State University, Western Carolina University, Shenandoah University, the Augusta Heritage Center at Davis and Elkins College, Common Ground on the Hill at McDaniel College, and the Blue Ridge Institute at Ferrum College.  He writes a column on dulcimer history, entitled, "Dulcimer Tales and Traditions," for the quarterly magazine, "Dulcimer Players News" -- see their web site at www.dpnews.com

Ralph holds a BA in English Literature from Swarthmore College and an M.Ed. from the University of Virginia.  He has written many books and magazine articles, and won a number of major writing awards, including the National Magazine Award for Public Service, given by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Greenwich Village Days


Washington Square Arch in Greenwich Village

Ralph was born in 1927 and raised in the small town of Cheyney, in Southeastern Pennsylvania.  He attended Swarthmore College, graduating in English in 1951, served in the Air Force, then went to New York, where he held an editing job from 1954 to 1957.  In that year, he took an apartment in Greenwich Village and became a free-lance writer, and continued as a free-lancer until he left the Village and New York in 1972.  

The timing of Ralph's Village days was fortunate.  In 1957, the folk music revival was gathering momentum, with Greenwich Village as its epicenter.  His apartment was just across the street from Allan Block's Sandal Shop, a gathering place for young folkies.  Ralph became a participant in the scene though not an important one!   He played the dulcimer and harmonica with the happy players in the Sandal Shop, Washington Square, and the Folklore Center on MacDougal Street, throughout the 60s, while making a modest living as a free-lance writer.  

Many years later, Ralph finally got sufficiently organized to tell the musical side of this story.  His book, Greenwich Village: The Happy Folk Singing Days, 1950s and 1960s, was published by Mel Bay in February 2008.  It consists of a memoir of some 40 pages, illustrated with many photos and ephemera, and containing 20 of the songs that he and his friends played in the Village in those happy days.  See the "Books & CDs" page of this web site.

Writings and Music During Greenwich
Village Days: A Sampler


            

The Health Hucksters, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1960 - my first book.

"The Wired Nation" -  The Nation, May 18, 1970. This piece won two top awards: The National Magazine Award for Public Service, given by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and the Business and Financial Writing Award given by the University of Missouri Graduate School of Journalism. The Wired Nation was published in book form by Harper & Row.

Allan Block and Ralph Lee Smith, Meadowlands MS-1, 1972. This album featured songs and tunes that Allan and Ralph played in Allan's Sandal Shop in the Village in the 1960s.


Lifetime Achievement Award