Etta Lucille Reid Baker (1913-2006) was born in North Carolina to a family of African-American, Native American, and European-American heritage. From a young age, her father, Boone Reid, a musician who played the Piedmont blues, taught her to play the guitar and the Piedmont blues style.
Baker worked several jobs since she was a teenager, contributing to the family’s income and occasionally playing with her father and sister at dances and parties.
In the summer of 1956, when Baker lived in Morganton, North Carolina, married, and had nine children, her father asked the folksinger Paul Clayton to listen to her music. Clayton recorded five pieces of Baker and included them in the 1956 album Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians. It was one of the first commercially released recordings of African-American banjo music.
Only in 1973, after several years of being a widow, Baker retired from the textile industry to focus on music. In 1991, she released her first album, One Dime Blues, followed by three more; the last one, an all-banjo instrumental recording, was released posthumously.
Until her 90th birthday, Baker performed in folk festivals and concerts nationwide, spreading the Piedmont blues, influencing many musicians, and winning prestigious awards.
Several years after her death, the people of Morganton decided to commemorate Baker’s legacy. In 2015, the Etta Baker exhibit opened in the local auditorium. Two years later, on May 25th, a sited statue of Baker by the sculptor Thomas Jay Warren was unveiled outside the Morganton Municipal Auditorium, immortalizing Baker playing her guitar.
Etta Baker, who mastered the Piedmont Blues style of finger-picking, was recently honored by her hometown of Morganton, NC, with a memorial at the city auditorium.
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