1903 – 1976
Nathan Talbert Ward, known as “Tab,” was the fourth of eight children born to William and Hannah Ward of the Spice Creek community. Though he learned to play the banjo around the age of 12, Tab didn’t have much time for music throughout his adolescence and much of his early adulthood. A farmer and sometimes a logger, he kept busy with work and raising a family with his wife, Stella Hicks Ward. It was not until Stella’s death in 1960 that Tab rediscovered his love of music, and started playing banjo, fiddle, and guitar. He primarily taught himself, though he noted that Roby Hicks, Buna Hicks’ husband, helped him get back into fiddling. He was best known for his banjo playing, and played in an unusual “double knock” style, and often accompanied by his excellent, understated singing. A fine luthier as well as a musician, he built traditional banjos in the Beech Mountain style.
Tab was not much of one for performing in public, though he could often be found at Jack Guy’s store, and his music appears throughout the Jack Guy Collection. He and Jack recorded an LP as the Beech Mountain Ramblers, and he also laid down a track for The Traditional Music of Beech Mountain, Vol. II record (Folk-Legacy Records, 1964) and recorded songs for Thomas Burton and Ambrose Manning (Folksongs II, 1969). Most often, though, Tab chose simply to play for himself. As folklorist Henry Glassie remembered,
The best I ever heard him play was one day when, seeing his orange pickup in the lane, I knew he was home and walked up on the porch. He was inside, singing “The Merry Gold Tree,” accompanying himself on the . . . banjo he had made. I stood and listened. The quality of his performance, the full volume of his voice, the energy in his hands, suggested he was playing for a valued and knowledgeable audience. He was. I entered and found him completely alone. (source)
– TJ Smith
Listen to Tab Ward in the Jack Guy Collection: