Alfred and Maybelle Welch live in Snowbird, a Cherokee community located in Graham County. They sing hymns in the Cherokee language, a tribal tradition that dates back to the early nineteenth century.
Maybelle: My mom used to sing, but she wouldn’t ever sing in public. She was always shy. From the morning after breakfast she would turn that radio on, and she would be whistling along. I heard every country song on that radio until I went to bed. Every country music artist, we knew them all. We’d sing along with them.
Alfred: Yeah, we had a battery-powered radio. On Friday night it was time for the Grand Ole Opry. We didn’t speak English. We talked Cherokee, so we had Cherokee names for all the singers. They made it sound the closest they could to English in Cherokee. We called Bill Monroe “Walosi.” It means frog.
Maybelle: Music has always been a part of our life. We always sang at home and at church. For a while Alfred played bass and sang with the Snowbird Quartet. Later we had a larger family group that sang together. Most of the time nowadays it’s just me and Alfred. He plays guitar and we try to harmonize together. We also have a few gospel singings in the community every summer, where we bring in different groups. Anyone can come and sing along.
We’re still going strong. We get asked to go everywhere. We get asked to do festivals, funerals, church services. We’ll go as long as the Lord lets us go—and as long as we’re doing the Lord’s work. There’s no stopping place for that. You just keep on going. That’s where we are at now. We thank the Lord for everything we do.
Excerpted from the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina guidebook by Fred Fussell with Steve Kruger. Photo by Cedric N. Chatterley.