Charlie Poole historical marker

Charlie Poole 1892-1931 (J-93)

Pioneer country music recording artist. With N.C. Ramblers, 1918-31, popularized old-time music. Grave 1/2 mi. SW.

Location: NC 14 at SR 1700 (Fisher Hill Road) northwest of Eden
County: Rockingham
Original Date Cast: 1990

Few musicians have achieved the legendary status of Charlie Poole, leader of the North Carolina Ramblers. In 1925, only one year after the first country music records were made by Fiddlin’ John Carson, Poole and his bandmates traveled from Rockingham County to New York to record what became bestsellers. Their first effort, featuring Poole’s high-pitched vocals, sold a phenomenal 102,000 copies, this when 5,000 constituted a hit. A 1927 Columbia catalog referred to Poole as “unquestionably the best known banjo picker and singer in the Carolinas.” Country music’s leading historian, Bill C. Malone, had high praise for the Ramblers’s “controlled, clean, and well-patterned ensemble sound.” Of Poole, Malone wrote that he was “one of the earliest examples of the hard-living, hard-drinking young man who burned his life away, a type that has appeared periodically and which seems endlessly appealing to country music fans.”

Poole worked in cotton mills before devoting full-time to his music and it was among mill workers that he gained his initial and most loyal following. Born in Randolph County on March 22, 1892, he moved as a young man to Spray (present-day Eden), where he met in 1918 clubfooted fiddler Posey Rorrer and formed the Ramblers. Poole himself had smashed his right hand in a childhood baseball accident. This left his fingers thereafter curled and led him to perfect the three-finger banjo picking style that would evolve, a generation later, into bluegrass. Married twice, Poole traveled widely across the Appalachian states and into Ohio. Stories about his meandering, brawling, philandering, and drinking abound.

By 1930 the Depression had slowed record sales and led Poole back to work at a mill in Spray. The next year Poole was contacted about recording the music for a western film, but he died of a heart attack before he made it to Hollywood. Poole’s home in Eden was torn down in the 1970s. In 1966 a tombstone featuring a banjo was placed at his grave in Overlook Cemetery in Rockingham, through the efforts of subscribers to a British country music magazine.

Kinney Rorrer, Rambling Blues: The Life & Songs of Charlie Poole (London: Old Time Music, 1982)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 122—sketch by Clifford Kinney Rorrer
Howard E. Covington Jr. and Marion A. Ellis, eds., The North Carolina Century: Tar Heels Who Made a Difference, 1900-2000 (2002)
Bill C. Malone, Country Music, U.S.A. (revised edition, 1985)
Bob Burtman, “Banjo Man: The Legend of Charlie Poole,” Spectator (Raleigh), May 23, 1985
Jacquelyn Dowd Hall et al., Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World (1987)
Lindley S. Butler, Rockingham County: A Brief History (1982)
Liner notes, County Records, 505, 509, 510, 516

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