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Lafayette College’s Williams Center for the Arts will host a return visit of one of its most popular programs of the last decade, the National Council on the Traditional Arts’ tour of “Masters of the Steel String Guitar,” at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 21.

Tickets for the performance cost $15 and may be purchased by calling the Williams Center box office, (610) 330-5009.

In addition to the performance, guitarists John Cephas and Eddie Pennington will give a 90-minute master class in blues guitar and thumb-picking guitar for students of Frank Michael Flandorffer at 4 p.m. Monday, March 20, at the Williams Center. The session is free and open to the public. From 8-9 p.m. Monday, musicians Wayne Henderson, Johnny Bellar, and Linda Lay will be special guests in a live radio broadcast on Otto Bost’s “Acoustic Eclectic” show on WDIY-FM, the Lehigh Valley National Public Radio affiliate. The broadcast can be heard on WDIY’s main signal at 88.1, or on the Easton translator at 93.9.

Three of the artists who made such a powerful impression in their 1993 visit are back, the North Carolina blues duo of Cephas on blues guitar and Phil Wiggins on voice and harmonica, and Henderson, the Appalachian guitarist. First-time guests are Bellar, a dobro sensation, and the Kentucky hot-shot guitarist Pennington, a Chet Atkins-style thumb picker. With a house-band rhythm section and expert commentary by a National Council on the Traditional Arts emcee, these down-home evenings of Southern folk idioms satisfy every taste among guitar aficionados.

Famous as a Nashville session musician and composer of gorgeous melodies, Bellar is a regular on the Nashville Now television show and on the Grand Old Opry. Born and raised outside of Nashville, he was introduced to music at an early age. Bellar began playing the guitar at 14 and the resophonic (dobro) a year later. After graduation from high school, he began playing with the legendary Stoneman Family in 1974 and continued touring with them until 1984. During that time, he appeared on such shows at Hee Haw, the Ralph Emery Show, and the Tommy Hunter Show. After leaving the Stoneman Family, Bellar performed for three years with the bluegrass gospel group New Tradition. In 1974, he worked his way into the Nashville studio scene. Since then, Bellar has performed at Opryland USA, and with Wilma Lee Cooper on the Grand Old Opry and throughout the country.

Cephas performs Piedmont blues, the oldest form of blues, a form with repertoire and performance links to the black string bands that began in colonial America. Much of his complex guitar style was learned in his youth from local players in Caroline County, Va., an area north of Richmond and very much in the “Piedmont” belt – the foothills region of Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. In his younger days, he sometimes performed for the “country breakdown” dances, where acrobatic dancing sometimes literally did break down through the floor. In 1987 and 1989, Cephas and Wiggins won the W.C. Handy Award for the year’s best traditional blues recording. In 1989, Cephas was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for his exemplary keeping of a historic and treasured music.

Born in Washington, D.C., in 1954, Wiggins learned his virtuoso harmonica skills during several years of playing on the streets with renowned street singer Flora Molton and many years of jam sessions with famed D.C. area Piedmont masters such as John Jackson and Archie Edwards. In his performances with Cephas, Wiggins provides a boundless stream of harmonica pyrotechnics that he weaves through, behind, and between the singing and playing of his partner.

Henderson was born and raised and still lives in tiny Rugby, Va., in the White Top Mountain area of Grayson County near the Carolina border, where he works as a rural delivery mailman. Sometimes his playing is mistaken for flatpicking, but he actually uses a thumbpick and fingerpicks to achieve amazing speed and fluidity, transforming fiddle and banjo pieces, and even the occasional jazz standard, into stunning guitar solos. In 1995, Henderson was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship for his playing and manufacture of exquisite steel string guitars. He has won more than 300 ribbons at various fiddlers’ conventions, including first place at Virginia’s Galax event a dozen times. He toured internationally with the United States Information Agency and has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Smithsonian Institution, and for “America’s Reunion” during the 1992 Presidential Inauguration. Most often, however, he stays at home and plays at his guitar shop and for local events.

Pennington, the guitar-picking County Crooner from Princeton, Ky., performs in a style that arose early in this century in his native Muhlenberg County. The method is based upon a women’s “parlor” style that became an international fad during the 19th century and was made famous in the 1940s and 1950s by Merle Travis and Chet Atkins. Pennington is a two-time thumbpicking national champion and one of the most sought-after guitarists on the festival circuit. His introduction to music came in a family where his father played fiddle and guitar, and grandparents on both sides had musical talents. The late Mose Rager – credited with introducing Travis to the thumb and finger technique – introduced Pennington to the thumbpicking style. Pennington became a regular visitor to Rager’s home in nearby Drakesboro, Kentucky and quickly developed a passion for this western Kentucky technique.

Lay is a bass player and vocalist with the Bristol, Va., bluegrass band Appalachian Trail. She is one of the most respected and adored singers in that area, where country music roots go deep. Lay has been nominated for several country music awards and is a favorite among Appalachian heartland musicians. She will accompany Henderson and Bellar during the concert.

This is the seventh National Council on the Traditional Arts tour that Lafayette has hosted since “Masters of the Steel String Guitar” first visited in March of 1993. The council also has brought Lafayette the “Masters of the Banjo” tour with Ralph Stanley, the “American Celtic Masters” tour with Seamus Egan and Solas, and the “Pueblo, Plains, Tundra” tour with Kevin Locke.

The National Council on the Traditional Arts is a private, nonprofit group dedicated to the presentation and documentation of traditional arts in the U.S. Founded in 1933, it is the nation’s oldest producing and presenting organization that deals with folk, ethnic, and tribal arts. These include music, crafts, stories, and dance passed down by families, communities, and tribal, ethnic, and occupational groups.

The 1999-2000 Performance Series at Lafayette College is sponsored, in part, by grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Mid Atlantic Foundation for the Arts.

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