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Seventy-five young JAM students anxious to learn about Appalachian music and heritage

A group of Junior Appalachian Musicians students eager to learn at this year’s first session.

By Cristy Dunn

The first night of Junior Appalachian Musicians, or JAM, was a huge success. Over 70 anxious students came to First United Methodist Church and many received their first lessons in guitar, banjo, fiddle, or dulcimer. The lessons are affordable at only $5 per week and taught by first rate musicians Kody Norris, Mary Rachel Nalley, Jonathan Campbell, Marty Pennington, Mike Taylor, Buddy Morefield and Zachariah McCracken. Bill Ward facilitates an enrichment session where students learn about Appalachian culture and are introduced to guest speakers and other musicians. It was heartwarming to see kids leave standing tall with instruments in hand and a sparkle in every eye.
JAM has more than 40 affiliates in North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina. Johnson County’s JAM is one of only two in Tennessee. JAM was started by Helen White, musician and long time partner of Wayne Henderson, the internationally acclaimed luthier and musician from nearby Rugby, Virginia. The program ensures that the Appalachian musical heritage we treasure is carried forward through another generation of musicians.
JAM is an extension of an after school program that was begun years ago by beloved sixth grade teacher, Mike Taylor. Inspired by last year’s Long Journey Home events, Marty and Celia Pennington partnered with Mr. Taylor and Buddy Morefield and began meeting at Morefield’s Store in Sugar Creek. Thanks to the hospitality of Howard Moon, Bud and Ella Ruth McComas and Lorraine Ray, who generously opened the Old Country Store, JAM’s performance group got an early start. You may have seen them perform at the JCCF Talent Show, the Farmers Market, Long Journey Home, Presidential Academic Excellence Awards, ETSU Regional Student Art Show, or Lois’ Country Cafe. Most recently, they had the honor of performing at the Tennessee Regional School Board Meeting.
JAM meets an immediate need of local youth, as the music programming in our schools lost another teacher this school year and budgets in every area of the arts have been cut severely. The public realizes the importance of the arts in a well rounded education. JAM received over 150 applications. The original plan to serve 50 students was expanded to 75, and the advisory board is looking at ways to expand the program even further so that all applicants can be served. “JAM is one of the most important things I know of that has happened in this community,” says advisory board member and matriarch of the Arts community, Evelyn Cook.
JAM is made possible in part by generous grants from the Dan Paul Foundation, the Johnson County Community Foundation and donations. If you have an old instrument, JAM will gladly refurbish it and put it in the hands of a proud Junior Appalachian Musician. To learn more, contact Mike Taylor, Celia Pennington, Russ Love, Amy Lewis, Evelyn Cook, Christi Gentry, or Cristy Dunn.