Press release from North Carolina Arts Council:
Governor Roy Cooper announced yesterday that six traditional artists from across the state will receive North Carolina Heritage Awards on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, for their contributions to our state’s cultural vitality.
The 2023 North Carolina Arts Council Heritage Award recipients are muralist Cornelio Campos, white oak basket maker Neal Thomas, Southern gospel and bluegrass musician Rhonda Gouge, champion old-time fiddler Richard Bowman, and Cherokee white-oak basket maker Louise Goings and her husband, the carver Butch Goings. Recipients are nominated by their communities and selected through a panel process.
Rhonda Gouge, Bakersville
Gospel and Bluegrass
Rhonda Gouge lives in the small community of Ledger, in Mitchell County, where she has been teaching music for more than 50 years. Gouge’s earliest musical mentor was the fiddle and banjo player Oscar “Red” Wilson, her great-uncle by marriage, who received a Heritage Award in 2003. He taught her the traditional fiddle tunes of the area and helped her with her first recording, which was done in his home studio. Gouge worked with Wilson for many years as a recording session musician; as a member of his band, the Toe River Valley Boys; and performing with him as a duo in churches and at community functions.
Although Gouge worked full-time at a local factory for almost two decades, she continued to teach an increasing number of students and remained musically active, playing in church and at community events, and recording with and traveling with gospel groups on weekends to events, where she was often a groundbreaking presence as a female musician. Gouge eventually was able to teach music full-time and went on to work with more than 1,000 students, some of whom would travel for miles to learn from her. She has spent her life in Ledger, where she has been both an innovator and tradition-bearer of western North Carolina’s sacred and secular music.