Helping communities across the state connect their heritage arts and traditions to local development, education, and active citizenship
Henderson, Vance County, NC
Skills: Demonstrating Artist, Public Presentations
Henderson native Raymond Strum was born in 1939. Growing up, he and his nine older siblings learned to plow the family’s tobacco fields with a mule. “Back in those days,” he remembers, “everybody was farmers.”
“We just came up raising tobacco. We had a little cotton…You had milk cows, and you had pigs that you raised. And we just grew up in—well, what I call poor farm families, although we really didn't feel poor because everybody was in the same boat.”
It was in this milieu that he learned to play the guitar. “Back then,” mused Strum, “There wasn't any TV. But my father played a little music. He’d get together with some friends at somebody's [tobacco] strip house and have a little dance or something like that.” The emphasis on music, he recalls, felt natural to him.
“As a child, I remember [my parents] playing and singing. Most of my older brothers could play a few chords on the guitar…You just sort of grew into it, like a child grows into seeing his daddy farming. You picked up things all along the way.”
Over time, Strum became a gifted musician, often singing while he worked his family’s plot of land. “There isn't nothing that will sooth a mule like singing or whistling all day long,” laughs Strum. “If you were trying to sing and your voice was breaking or you couldn't quite get the high notes you wanted to get, the mule didn't care. He just kept on working.”
While working for the local telephone company––a job he held for 35 years––Strum continued to play bluegrass and country music throughout Vance and Warren Counties, including a stint as a member of Wayne Kinton’s Tri-County Bluegrass Band. The music venues during that time, Strum remembers, were informal and community-based. “There was a little grill in Epsom,” he says, and “You'd have 30 or 40 people come in, sit around, eat, play a little music down there.”
Raymond Strum is considered one of the elder statesmen among musicians in the tri-county area, equally adept at singing shuffling country weepers as high lonesome bluegrass songs. Strum credits his musical gifts to his traditional upbringing, a way of life in which skills were learned within the community. “I wouldn't take nothing for being raised the way I was,” says Strum.