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Etta Baker is Worth Listening To–And She’s Also a Great Musician


I had never heard of Etta Baker before hearing a clip on Facebook. My loss. She initially reminded me of Elizabeth Cotten, but Baker clearly is unique.

I’ve only heard a couple of David Holt interviews, but the guy is terrific. Here is more on Baker:

Born into a musical family on March 13th, 1913, Etta Lucille Reid, grew up in Caldwell County, North Carolina, one of eight children in the Reid family. Etta learned to play hymns, rags, parlor music, and Tin Pan Alley songs from her father, who had learned to play music from his father. A multi-instrumentalist, equally adept at playing piano, violin, guitar and banjo, the young Etta often played at dances and parties around Caldwell County with her father and sister.

Etta gave up most of her public performing when she married Lee Baker in 1936, but she continued to play for her family and friends and at home for her nine children.

A chance meeting in 1956 with Paul Clayton while Etta and Lee were on vacation led to Etta’s first appearance on a recording. Paul Clayton was collecting field recordings when he discovered Etta. Etta, her father, and brother-in-law Lacey Phillips along with Hobart Smith and Richard Chase appeared on Clayton’s record Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians. This record was said to influence many rising stars like Bob Dylan and Taj Mahal during the 60’s folk revival.

Grateful Dead Fans will recognize the first tune in the above clip.