Greensboro, N.C. — Sheila Kay Adams can tell a story. She can play the banjo, too.
And she sure can sing.
She’ll close her eyes and, like a movie, see a ballad from her home in Madison County unfold in vivid color.
She is now 62, a mother and a grandmother. For 17 years, she taught school. She now works as the keeper of her culture, with a passport that has taken her everywhere and helped her win her share of awards.
Two years ago, the National Endowment of the Arts awarded her a National Heritage Fellowship, a $25,000 award considered the highest honor traditional artists can receive.
In late July, she got a call from a longtime friend. She received another accolade. This time, it came from closer to home. The North Carolina Arts Council awarded Adams the state’s highest traditional honor - The N.C. Heritage Award.
She plays a banjo claw-hammer style or sings a cappella in a voice as genuine and honest as you’ll ever hear.
She feels she has to. She has to pass on these ballads she heard as a child — “love songs,’’ she calls them — because they represent a lifestyle that has vanished like a passing cloud.
“It doesn’t matter where people are born and raised,’’ she says. “Anyone my age or anybody who is 50 and above remembers this stuff and, when I talk about it, I see it dawn on their face and it’s incredible.
“They are transported to a simpler time — not an easier time, mind you — but a time of sitting on the porch and singing love songs. That is what you did in the evening. You got a nice little breeze going and you rear back and sang. You sang to the mountains.’’
Catch Adams at The National Folk Festival NC in Greensboro Sept. 11-13.