Showcasing the Arts


Oct. 2011 Featured Artist: Eddie Pennington

Eddie PenningtonIn August 2011 the National Folk Festival took place in Nashville and featured performances by living treasures from all over the U.S. Among them was Kentucky’s Eddie Pennington, a master guitarist in the Muhlenberg County thumbpicking tradition. Made famous by Merle Travis, this style of guitar-playing requires tremendous skill and dexterity. Only a few thumbpicking guitarists have earned the title “master.”

Many consider Eddie the best of the best, and he has the credentials to prove it — multiple National Thumbpickers’ Hall of Fame awards, a Kentucky Governor’s Award in the Arts, a National Heritage Fellowship Award and an honorary doctorate from Western Kentucky University. Eddie’s live performances and recordings leave listeners wondering how so much music can come from one guitar. The secret is in the thumb. A plastic pick worn on the thumb enables a guitarist to play a quick, driving bassline, while the other fingers strum rhythm and pluck out melodies.

Eddie’s technical accomplishments are only part of what makes him a master artist. He has dedicated his life to learning as much as he can from his artistic forbears—the same western Kentucky musicians who taught Merle Travis, Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed—and ensuring that their knowledge and culture continues into the future. Eddie has taught many in his family and community, including his son Alonzo Pennington and his apprentice Tim Wiles through a Kentucky Arts Council Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship.

Experience Eddie’s thumbpicking through a new exhibition The Makings of a Master: Kentucky Folk Arts Apprenticeships.

Eddie Pennington
Kettle, Ky.



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