The Kentucky Arts Council and the Kentucky Historical Society are proud to present a special exhibit and companion website featuring the art and tradition of Kentuckians who are considered masters in the making and repairing of guitars, fiddles, banjos, mandolins, dulcimers and other original stringed instruments. This collection of their work and their wisdom is the result of year of field research conducted by the Kentucky Folklife Program.
Made to be Played: Traditional Art of Kentucky Luthiers is funded through a National Endowment for the Arts American Masterpieces grant and is dedicated to the memory of master luthier, craftsman, instrument inventor and musician, Homer Ledford.
Homer Ledford was born in the Alpine Hills of Tennessee where he made his first fiddle out of matchsticks at the age of 12. He learned to play by listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio. Homer later attended the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. While there, he met Jean and Edna Ritchie and started making dulcimers in 1945. After finishing school in North Carolina he attended Berea College in Berea, Kentucky and began playing with several student musicians.
He began making other stringed instruments in 1949. During his lifetime he created nearly 6,000 dulcimers, 474 banjos, 23 mandolins, 21 guitars, 18 ukuleles, 13 dulcitars (which he invented and patented) 3 dulcijos, 4 violins and 2 bowed dulcimers. His work is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution with samples of an Appalachian dulcimer, a fretless banjo and a dulcitar.
Homer Ledford was also an accomplished musician in his own right. He played thirteen different instruments, including fiddle, mountain dulcimer, autoharp, bowed dulcimer, banjo, musical saw, mandolin, guitar, ukulele, dulcitar, and dulcibro. He formed a five-piece traditional bluegrass and old time music band, "Homer Ledford and the Cabin Creek Band" that continues to perform as the "Cabin Creek Band". Homer Ledford shared his musical talents throughout the nation as well as goodwill tours to Japan, Ecuador and Ireland.
He was the subject of R. Gerald Alveys book, The Dulcimer Maker: The Craft of Homer Ledford published by University Press of Kentucky and accompanied documentary film produced by Eastern Kentucky University. He also wrote an autobiography in the storytelling form, See Ya Further Up the Creek, which included a CD of performances, the Best of Homer Ledford. Earlier recordings include Homer Ledford and the Cabin Creek Band and Homer Ledford.
A retired teacher from Winchester, he was a Charter Member of the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen, a Lifetime Member of the Southern Highland Guild and had Emeritus Status in the Kentucky Craft Marketing Program. During his lifetime he received many awards of distinction, including designation of Homer Ledford Weekend by Kentucky State Parks, induction into the Hall of Distinguished Alumni by Eastern Kentucky University, the naming of the Homer Ledford Bluegrass Festival in Winchester, named as Kentucky Appalachian Treasure by Morehead State University, induction into the String Music Hall of Fame in Georgetown, recipient of the Rude Osolnik Award from the Kentucky Craft Marketing Program and the Kentucky Art and Craft Foundation (now Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft). In 1996, he received the most prestigious of the Governors Awards in the Arts, the Milner Award. In 2002, he was commissioned by the Kentucky Arts Council to create dulcimers as awards for the recipients of The Governors Awards in the Arts for the 25th Anniversary Celebration.
Homer Ledford devoted much of his life to instrument building, repairing, inventing and performing with his band Cabin Creek. Over the years he welcomed many visitors into his shop at his home in Winchester and left them with fond memories. He passed away at age 79 on December 11, 2006. Made to be Played: Traditional Art of Kentucky Luthiers is dedicated to the memory of the beloved Homer Ledford, one of Kentuckys most respected luthiers.