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Etta Baker represents one of the keepers of the traditional Piedmont blues style for contemporary markets. Raised in the foothills of Caldwell County, Baker picked up a guitar when she was just three. Because of her size, she had to lay the guitar on a bed and stand picking at the neck. Like McGhee, she was born into a musical family and began her musical career playing guitar with her seven brothers and sisters at community functions and corn shuckings.
Baker began her professional career in the 1950s, about twenty years after the surge of Piedmont blues musicians in Durham. Like her Durham contemporaries, she has performed and recorded all over the east coast. She has captured audiences at the National Folk Festival in Virginia, the 1984 World's Fair in Knoxville, the Kent State Folk Festival and the Augusta Heritage Festival. Her most noted albums are Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians and Music From the Hills of Caldwell County. She and her sister Cora Phillips received the North Carolina Folklore Society's Brown-Hudson Award in 1982.
Unlike her contemporaries, Baker's music was not her only profession. She played primarily for her friends and family, and for her own enjoyment. In addition to raising nine children, she worked at the Skyland Textile Company for over 20 years. She plays the six- and 12-string guitar, but rarely sings. UNC-TV viewers can enjoy a closer profile of Baker in the "Piedmont Blues" episode of Folkways. You can also listen to some more of her music from a story about Ms. Baker that aired on NPR by clicking here. Ms. Baker passed away in September of 2006.