By Tamas Mondovics
Local officials, musicians, music lovers, residents, and representatives with the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development gathered this week in downtown Mountain City to celebrate the community’s musical heritage.
Music legend Clarence “Tom” Ashley was the center of attention honored by the installation of a new “Tennessee Music Pathways” marker held in front of the Tom Ashley Mural located at the corner of Donnelly Street and South Church Street.
The marker is the first of a number to be unveiled in Northeast Tennessee.
Tennessee Music Pathways is an online-planning guide that connects visitors to the state’s rich musical heritage at tnmusicpathways.com.
From the largest cities to the smallest communities, Tennessee Music Pathways stretches across all 95 counties and features hundreds of landmarks from the seven genres of music that call Tennessee home: blues, bluegrass, country, gospel, soul, rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll.
Historians identified more than 300 points of interest to date, and additional markers, including two more planned in Mountain City, will be installed for years to come.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be here today and celebrate the rich musical heritage of the region,” said Department of Tourist Development East Tennessee Division Manager, Dave Jones.
“The installation and unveiling of this marker here in Mountain City will literally launch a statewide tour,” said Melanie Beachamp Assistant Commissioner of Rural Tourism Outreach. “The stories behind the music in these small communities are what shaped the music that it is today.”
During and following the dedication ceremony, followed by a reception at the Center for the Arts, visitors enjoyed Ashley’s songs performed by Kenny Price and Jerry Moses in Ashley’s signature clawhammer banjo style.
“Our community is honored to have Clarence “Tom” Ashley included in the Tennessee Music Pathways program,” said Cristy Dunn, of the Johnson County Center for the Arts.
Ashley was a performer, an artist, and a showman who spent 30 years traveling with a medicine show where he played clawhammer banjo, sang, and performed as a comedian.
It is noteworthy that the event also marks the launch of the “Musical Heritage Mural Mile,” a new walking tour throughout downtown Mountain City.
Dunn explained that Mural Mile, the self-guided mural tour, connects Johnson County residents and visitors alike to a storied history of authentic Appalachian music including Clarence “Tom” Ashley, Blind Fiddler, G.B. Grayson, who first recorded the Ballad of Tom Dooley, plus Fred Price and Clint Howard, who introduced the young Doc Watson to the world.
“We invite everyone to walk the Mural Mile and visit the Arts Center, where they will find more information and historical artifacts.”
All murals are the work of local Johnson County artists. A downloadable map of the tour is available online at www.longjourneyhome.net/muralmile.