Tennessee is home to many outstanding folk artists who have mastered, preserved, and passed on their traditional skills. A number of Tennesseans have received special recognition by both federal and state programs for lifetime dedication and accomplishments in the folk arts. Their contributions to our culture are honored and remembered through these heritage awards, and sources about their lives and work, linked by clicking their names below, provide a sampling of the best of Tennessee’s traditional arts.

The National Heritage Fellowship is an award presented annually since 1982 to about a dozen Americans by the National Endowment for the Arts. Although the program strives for wide representation to people of different backgrounds, places, and art forms, the long list of recipients over the years whom Tennessee can claim testifies to our state’s folk cultural wealth:

National Heritage Fellowship Recipients include:

Brownie McGhee, blues musician, Knoxville & Kingsport (1982)

Bill Monroe, bluegrass musician, Nashville (1982)

Alex Stewart, cooper/woodworker, Sneedville (1983)

Nimrod Workman, ballad singer, Mascot (1986)

The Fairfield Four
, gospel group, Nashville (1989)

Earl Scruggs, bluegrass banjo player, Madison (1989)

Howard Armstrong, stringband musician, LaFollette (1990)

Robert Spicer, buckdancer, Dickson (1990)

B.B. King, blues musician, Memphis (1991)

Clyde Davenport
, old-time musician, Jamestown (1992)

Kenny Baker, bluegrass fiddler, Cottontown (1993)

Will Keys
, old-time banjo player, Gray (1996)

Jim & Jesse McReynolds, bluegrass musicians, Gallatin (1997)

Dale Calhoun, Reelfoot Lake boat builder, Tiptonville (1998)

Ralph Blizard, old-time fiddler, Blountville (2002)

Jerry Douglas, resophonic guitar player, Nashville (2004)

Doyle Lawson
, bluegrass musician, Bristol (2006)

Mac Wiseman
, bluegrass singer, Nashville (2008)

Del McCoury, bluegrass singer, Nashville (2010)



Tennessee Folklife Heritage Award Recipients include:

The Tennessee Folklife Heritage Award has been presented every other year since 2001 as part of the Governor’s Arts Awards, a program of the Tennessee Arts Commission. The award honors “long-term achievements within art forms that are rooted in the traditional or ethnic culture of Tennessee.” Some of its recipient artists have also received the National Heritage Fellowship, and the Governor’s Awards also recognized a few folk artists prior to the creation of the Folklife Heritage category:



Earl Scruggs, bluegrass banjo player, Madison (1994)

The Fairfield Four, gospel group, Nashville (1994)

Bessie Harvey, outsider artist, Alcoa (1994)

Bob Douglas, old-time fiddler, Chattanooga (2001)

Spirit of Memphis Quartet, gospel group, Memphis (2001)

Ida Pearl Davis & Thelma Hibdon, basketmakers, Woodbury (2001)

Howard Armstrong, stringband musician, LaFollette (2003)

Ralph Blizard, old-time fiddler, Blountville (2003)

Clara Fodor, needleworker, Linden (2003)

Roy Harper, old-time singer, Manchester (2003)

Charlie Acuff, old-time fiddler, Alcoa (2005)

Fletcher Bright, fiddler, Chattanooga (2005)

Clyde Davenport
, old-time musician, Jamestown (2007)

Fisk Jubilee Singers
, spiritual group, Nashville (2007)

Robert Belfour, blues musician, Memphis (2009)

Charles J. Horner, instrument maker, Rockwood (2009)

Newberry & Sons Chairs, chairmakers, Red Boiling Springs (2009)

Thomas Maupin
, buckdancer, Murfreesboro (2011)

Charles Towler, convention gospel musician, Cleveland (2011)


Bobby “Blue” Bland, blues singer, Memphis (2013)


Polly Page, woodcarver/dollmaker, Pleasant Hill (2013)