Will Keys

old-time banjo player, Gray

National Heritage Fellowship (1996)

Photo by Don Dudenbostel


Though never a professional, Will Keys (1923-2005) led a life dedicated to old-time instrumental music, and he gained wide acclaim for his precise and understated two-finger banjo style.  Raised in musically rich Upper East Tennessee, Keys was drawn to good melodies and perfected his unusual technique to deliver them effectively.  He was a featured participant in the Tennessee program at the 1986 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife and in 1993 performed Masters of the Banjo tour organized by the National Council for the Traditional Arts.


For Will Key’s National Heritage Fellowship profile, go to

For more information about Will Keys and his music, go to:

http://www.aca-dla.org/dlamusic/dlamusic.html (search “Keys”)

For further reading, see:

Govenar, Alan, Masters of Traditional Arts: A Biographical Dictionary (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2001), pp. 339-40, 721.


Oldtime Banjo from Blackley Creek, Cedar Glades Productions 005 (DVD reissue, 2009).  Available from http://www.springfedrecords.com/.
Masters of Traditional Arts, Documentary Arts (CD-Rom, 2002)
A Banjo Original, County CD-2720 (CD, 1997)
Masters of the Banjo, Arhoolie ARH-421-CD (CD, 1994)
Evergreen, Cloudlands CLC006 (cassette, 1992)
Sweet Marie, Bee Balm 301 (cassette)