Dock Boggs (1898–1971)

Updated: February 28, 2011

Early country banjo player and singer.

Born February 7, 1898, in West Norton, Virginia, Moran Lee “Dock” Boggs worked as a miner in the coalfields of south- western Virginia and eastern Kentucky for most of his life. A member of a musical family, Boggs began to sing and play the banjo in his teens. In 1927 he recorded eight songs for the Brunswick label and enjoyed a modest semiprofessional career, but hard times during the early years of the Great Depression sent him back to the mines and forced him to abandon hope of sustaining a musical livelihood. Boggs was “rediscovered” and recorded again in the 1960s, whereupon he performed frequently before urban folk revival audiences.

A key figure in the transition from folk to commercial music making in Appalachia, Boggs learned songs from many sources. He adapted traditional a cappella ballads to banjo accompaniment, learned blues from records, and devised his own up-picking, three-finger banjo style from watching local African American musicians. His fingerpicking allowed him to sing and play the melody together in a sort of duet—a contrast to the more common frailing style of banjo playing.

Boggs’s music embodies the mingling of black and white traditions. His repertoire included “Country Blues,” a reworking of the lyric folk song “Darlin’ Corey”; such British ballads as “Pretty Polly”; native American ballads, including “Omie Wise” and “Cole Younger”; blues ballads such as “John Henry”; and blues songs learned from records, including “Down South Blues” and “Sugar Baby.” He died on his seventy-third birthday.

Cite this Entry

MLA Style

"Dock Boggs," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2018, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 19 Oct 2018 <>

APA Style

"Dock Boggs." (2018) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved October 19, 2018, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia:

Dock Boggs