Spencer Moore, 1919-2011

Country singer Spencer Moore, age 92, born Raymond Spencer Moore on February 7, 1919, passed away on Sunday June 5, 2011 at Valley Health Care Center, Chilhowie VA.

Born into a family of 11 children on February 7, 1919 in the northwestern corner of North Carolina, Spencer was introduced to old-time music early on. After the family moved across the mountains to Laurel Bloomery, the Moore family was exposed to more old-time music via their neighbor, the blind fiddler and singer, G.B. Grayson. Spencer’s father acquired a wind-up phonograph and records. Hearing records by the likes of Charlie Poole, Jimmie Rodgers, Riley Puckett and their neighbor, G.B. Grayson, stoked the fires of Spencer’s love of old-time music that much more. A few dollars bought him a guitar from Sears and Roebuck via the mail. In 1933, at age 14, Spencer attended the famous Whitetop Mountain Folk Festival. There he heard Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt sing “Three Little Babes,” an old British ballad also known as “The Wife of Usher’s Well.”

By the late 1930’s, Spencer and his brother Joe were performing publicly themselves as the Moore Brothers in the Delmore Brothers style. It was during this period that the Moores performed in a tent-show with the Carter Family.

In 1959, famed folklorist Alan Lomax along with Shirley Collins came into the hills of southwest Virginia to collect Blue Ridge mountain music. Lomax recorded a number of pieces by Spencer including Jimmy Sutton and The Girl I Left Behind. The performances were released on Atlantic and Prestige Records. Lomax called him “as genuine as a rail fence.”

In a rustic mountain home perched on a green hillside of the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia, Spencer Moore remained almost untouched by modernity. He provided his own entertainment on an acoustic guitar over a half century old. Knowing between 500-600 songs by heart, he could sing you most any old-time song known in that part of the Blue Ridge.

In 2007, Tompkins Square’s Josh Rosenthal returned to the same house that Lomax visited and recorded Spencer Moore’s solo, self-titled debut album.

We have lost one of the last links to early country music, and the true roots of Blue Ridge mountain music.