Lonnie Alvin Ward
1928 – 2016
As the story goes, Lonnie Ward first picked up the dulcimer at the age of 12 out of a fascination with his mail carrier, Nettie Presnell (wife of Edd Presnell), who carried a dulcimer with her on her mail route and would stop and play it for those wanting to hear a tune. He was perhaps even more influenced by the talents of his mother, Kizzie Ida Ward, who loved to play the banjo. To whomever his inspiration may be attributed, Lonnie grew to become a great musician in his own right, playing dulcimer, banjo, and guitar (and would, in later years, take up fiddle, inspired by another local musician and friend, Ora Mae Watson).
Lonnie was celebrated for his unique two-finger banjo technique, a style he adapted from Kizzie. His approach to the dulcimer was also unusual in that it resembled that of a guitarist’s “tickle-and-pinch” technique, akin to the style of Maybelle Carter. His song repertoire featured traditional ballads, such as “House Carpenter” and “John Henry,” as well as sacred songs (“Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb” was a favorite), and more modern tunes popular in the country and Western swing genres.
Lonnie was honored in 2011 with a Brown-Hudson Folklore Award. Folklorist Trevor McKenzie wrote,
“Each tune Lonnie decides to pick is accompanied by a look of intense concentration and, more often than not, a wide grin that never fails to capture an audience. Whether onstage or in his living room, Ward is a performer more than willing to encourage others to participate in the musical heritage he has known since childhood.”
– TJ Smith
Listen to Lonnie Ward in the Jack Guy Collection