Sheila Kay Adams (1953-)

Updated: March 04, 2016

Sheila Kay Adams is a ballad singer from Madison County, North Carolina.

Born March 18, 1953, in Greeneville, Tennessee, Sheila Kay Adams grew up in Sodom in Madison County, North Carolina, a seventh-generation storyteller, singer, and musician. In her music, storytelling, and writing, she has celebrated the speech and culture of central Appalachia’s mountain people.

Her great-aunt “Granny” Dellie Chandler Norton was a highly regarded performer of traditional music from the British Isles–Appalachian heritage. Adams’s first public performance was in 1976, accompanying her grandmother onstage at Duke University.

Adams graduated from Mars Hill College around that time, married, and taught school, earning a master’s degree and raising three children. Her youngest son, Andrew Barnhill, and daughter Melanie Rice are also performers, making eight generations of connection between the Old and New World Ballad traditions.

Before leaving teaching in 1993, Adams recorded two albums of ballads and songs, Loving Forward, Loving Back (1987) and A Spring in the Burton Cove (1990), and she also recorded a storytelling collection, Don’t Git Above Your Raising (1992). Her first book, a collection of family stories entitled Come Go Home with Me, appeared in 1995 from the University of North Carolina Press, while the novel My Old True Love, written largely in regional dialect, appeared in 2004 from Algonquin Books.

Adams’s more recent music recordings include My Dearest Dear,Whatever Happened to John Parrish’s Boy, and All the Other Fine Things. She has appeared in several films, including roles as the banjo player during the dance scene in Songcatcher and as the Humming Woman in The Last of the Mohicans. She also co-hosted and co-produced a short-lived public radio series, Over Home.

Her late husband, Jim Taylor, was a dulcimer builder and player. Together they produced recordings of Civil War era music, mostly fiddle tunes.

Adams has received several awards, including the Brown-Hudson Award from the North Carolina Folklore Society. Her favorite quotation about herself comes from her “Granny” Norton: “She might not always know where she’s going, but she sure knows where she comes from.”

She received the 2013 National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.


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"Sheila Kay Adams," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2018, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 23 Sep 2018 <>

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"Sheila Kay Adams." (2018) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved September 23, 2018, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia:

Sheila Kay Adams