History of Textiles: Spotlight on Earl Scruggs

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Ever wonder if any famous people began their careers in textiles? One such individual stands out in Cleveland County (home of STI and Revolution Performance Fabrics). The county, founded in 1841, was largely agricultural, dominated by cotton farming, and became the home of many mills making cotton cloth, yarns, and thread beginning with the re-industrialization of the South after the Civil War. By the 1940’s there were 20 spinning mills in the Shelby area, dominated by the yarn and thread company, Lily Mills, where a young Earl Scruggs worked.

On December 1, 1945 at the age of 21, Earl Scruggs took the stage at the Grand Ole Opry with Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys and history was made, as bluegrass music made its debut. Descriptions of how the audience reacted vary, but one thing is almost certain—no one had ever seen his style of “three finger” picking on the banjo, and no one had ever heard so many notes flowing from a banjo before. Scruggs joined the Blue Grass Boys shortly after leaving his job at the Lily Mill. Prior to this, Scruggs had played in numerous local “front porch pickings” around the region, including frequent trips to Rutherford County where he is reported to have learned this famous picking style from a fellow picker, Rex Brooks. 

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According to Wikipedia, “Despite considerable success with Monroe, performing on the Grand Ole Opry and recording classic hits like "Blue Moon of Kentucky", Scruggs resigned from the group in 1946 due to their exhausting touring schedule. Band member Lester Flatt resigned as well, and he and Scruggs later paired up in a new group called "Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys". Scruggs' banjo instrumental called "Foggy Mountain Breakdown", released in 1949, became an enduring hit, and had a rebirth of popularity to a younger generation when it was featured in the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. The song won two Grammy Awards and in 2005 was selected for the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry of works of unusual merit. Flatt and Scruggs brought bluegrass music into mainstream popularity in the early 1960’s with their country hit, "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" — the theme music for the successful network television sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies — the first bluegrass recording to reach number one on the Billboard charts. Over their 20-year association, Flatt and Scruggs recorded over 50 albums and 75 singles."

Earl Scruggs passed away March 8, 2012.  On January 11, 2014, the Earl Scruggs Center opened in the renovated county courthouse in Shelby, NC. Here, one can tour a museum which celebrates his life as well as the unique and engaging stories of the history and cultural traditions of the region.

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Click the video below to listen to Earl Scrugg’s country hit The Ballad of Jed Clampett