Etta Reid Baker was a leading proponent of the ﬁngerpicked guitar style known as the Piedmont blues. Born March 31, 1913, in the Appalachian foothills of Caldwell County, North Carolina, Baker came from a family of African American, Irish, and Native American lineage. As a child, she learned a diverse repertoire, primarily from her father, Boone Reid, as well as from other family members. Etta Reid soon became proﬁcient on several instruments, including the banjo. Excelling on the guitar, she developed a precise playing style that featured complex thumb-and-ﬁnger picking patterns. Her arrangements of traditional, popular, and blues material have been consistently imaginative.
In 1936 she married Lee Baker, and they later moved to Morganton, North Carolina. For most of her adult life, Etta Baker worked in local textile mills. Although she discontinued playing music in public for many years, Baker eventually received increased attention for her musical talents and for being a repository of a disappearing musical tradition. Her 1956 recording of the traditional “One-Dime Blues,” released on the LP anthology Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians, was widely admired and much imitated during the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s, though she personally avoided the limelight. After her husband’s death in 1967, however, Baker increasingly devoted her time to touring and performing. In 1991 she recorded her ﬁrst solo album, One-Dime Blues, for the Rounder label. That same year Baker received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Baker died September 23, 2006.
Cite this Entry
"Etta Baker," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2017, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 27 Mar 2017 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=30>
"Etta Baker." (2017) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved March 27, 2017, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=30