Deceased Burnsville musician Lesley Riddle to be honored with highway marker

Lesley Riddle, an African American musician born in Burnsville in 1905, will be recognized with a N.C. Highway Historical Marker that will be dedicated at RiddleFest July 3, 8:30 p.m., at the Mountain Heritage Center in Burnsville. Subsequently, the marker will be placed on U.S. Highway 19 near Main Street in Burnsville.

Riddle was an influential musician across the east coast until his death in Asheville in 1979.

Here is the full release from the NC Department of Cultural Resources:

The “First Family of Country Music” A.P. Carter, his wife Sarah and sister Maybelle learned a lot from Lesley Riddle, an African American musician born in Burnsville in 1905. He will be recognized with a N.C. Highway Historical Marker to be dedicated at RiddleFest July 3, 8:30 p.m., at the Mountain Heritage Center, Burnsville. Eventually it will stand on U.S. Highway 19 near Main Street in Burnsville.

Riddle moved to Kingsport, Tennessee, at age eight when his mother relocated. He lost his right leg in an accident at a cement plant in his mid-teens. While recuperating he took up guitar, but later in a dispute over a shotgun lost his middle and ring finger. As with other artists, the disability led the musician to develop his own technique.

In Kingsport Riddle played regularly with musicians that included Blind Lemon Jefferson and Durham’s own Brownie McGhee at the home of John Henry Lyons. In the late 1920s Alvin Pleasance Carter visited the Lyons home and struck up a friendship with Riddle. Subsequently they traveled together widely collecting songs. The Carter family were key figures in the Bristol music sessions in late 1927. Riddle visited them often and taught them songs such as “The Cannonball Blues” and others that became part of the Carter family repertoire.

In 1930 Riddle wrote “Lonesome for You” for the Carters, giving up the rights in exchange for an artificial leg to replace his wooden leg. “Mother Maybelle” credited Riddle with teaching her the “Carter Scratch,” a technique later adopted by Chet Atkins and Doc Watson. Largely owing to Jim Crow laws of the day, Riddle never recorded or appeared onstage with the Carters.

Riddle married and moved to Rochester, N.Y. in 1937, forsaking the music business. During the folk revival of the 1960s, Maybelle Carter told to musicologist Mike Seeger the role Riddle had played in the Carter Family story. Seeger sought him out, made recordings and arranged for Riddle performances at Newport, Mariposa and Washington, D.C. at a Smithsonian festival.

Riddle moved back to North Carolina and died of lung cancer in Asheville in 1979. A stage production based on his life and music in 2008 premiered at the Parkway Playhouse in Burnsville.

For additional information about the dedication please call (828) 682-9654. For additional information about the N.C. Historical Highway Marker program call (919) 807-7290. The N.C. Historical Highway Marker program is a collaboration between the N.C. Departments of Cultural Resources and Transportation.

About the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources
The N.C. Department of Cultural Resources (NCDCR) is the state agency with a vision to be the leader in using the state’s cultural resources to build the social, cultural, educational and economic future of North Carolina. Led by Secretary Susan Kluttz, NCDCR’s mission is improve our state’s quality of life by creating opportunities that promote economic development, stimulate learning, preserve the state’s history and spark creativity to experience excellence in the arts, history and libraries in North Carolina. NCDCR was the first state organization in the nation to include all agencies for arts and culture under one umbrella.

Through arts efforts led by the N.C. Arts Council, the N.C. Symphony and the N.C. Museum of Art, NCDCR offers the opportunity for enriching arts education for young and old alike and spurring the economic stimulus engine for our state’s communities. NCDCR’s Divisions of State Archives, Historical Resources, State Historic Sites and State History Museums preserve, document and interpret North Carolina’s rich cultural heritage to offer experiences of learning and reflection. NCDCR’s State Library of North Carolina is the principal library of state government and builds the capacity of all libraries in our state to develop and to offer access to educational resources through traditional and online collections including genealogy and resources for people who are blind and have physical disabilities.

NCDCR annually serves more than 19 million people through its 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, the nation’s first state-supported Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the N.C. Arts Council and the State Archives. NCDCR champions our state’s creative industry that accounts for more than 300,000 jobs and generates nearly $18.5 billion in revenues. For more information, please call (919) 807-7300 or visit

About Kat McReynolds
Kat studied entrepreneurship and music business at the University of Miami and earned her MBA at Appalachian State University. Follow me @katmAVL

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