Sheila Kay Adams of Madison County Honored as National Heritage Fellow

Sheila Kay Adams, photo by Garius Hill

Sheila Kay Adams, photo by Garius Hill

RALEIGH — One of North Carolina’s best-known ballad singers, Sheila Kay Adams will be honored as a 2013 National Heritage Fellow in a live awards presentation of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) fellowship concert Friday, Sept. 27 at 8 p.m. The program will include a performance by the Madison County native.

The free, public program will be broadcast live online at North Carolina residents can get a sneak preview by listening to a podcast at of Adams at

Adams is one of nine National Heritage recipients named by the NEA this year, and the 12th North Carolinian to receive the national award. Each fellow receives a $25,000 award.

“Sheila made it her mission to absorb old love songs from her elders and she became a bridge that has enabled young people to learn, and to love, ballad singing,” Executive Director Wayne Martin, N.C. Arts Council, observed. “That venerated 17th century tradition had been in danger of becoming irrelevant.”

Ballad singing flourished when rural communities didn’t have access to newspapers, magazines and books, and provided a way to discuss events and ponder the human condition. Adams learned to sing from her great-aunt Dillie Chandler and the Wallin family (including National Heritage Award winner Doug Wallin). In addition to ballad singing, Adams is an accomplished clawhammer-style banjo player and storyteller. She began performing in her teens and has performed at festivals, music camps and workshops in the United States and the United Kingdom.

“Arts, in addition to enriching our lives, has also sparked an economic renaissance in many of our towns and cities in North Carolina attracting new business, downtown redevelopment and historic preservation,’ says Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources Susan Kluttz. “We are thrilled that the NEA has recognized one our uniquely North Carolinian musicians.” 

A new travel guidebook, “Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina,” features a profile of Adams and other traditional musicians in the mountains and foothills of the state. Published in partnership with UNC Press, it is a guide for citizens and visitors to experience living Blue Ridge music traditions, including ballad singing.

Adams is the author of two books:  “Come Go Home With Me,” a collection of stories published by UNC Press, and winner of the North Carolina Historical Society’s award for historical fiction in 1997; and “My Old True Love,” a novel published by Algonquin Books in 2004. She has recorded several albums of ballads, songs and stories.

About the North Carolina Arts Council

The North Carolina Arts Council works to make North Carolina The Creative State where a robust arts industry produces a creative economy, vibrant communities, children prepared for the 21st century and lives filled with discovery and learning. The Arts Council accomplishes this in partnership with artists and arts organizations, other organizations that use the arts to make their communities stronger and North Carolinians—young and old—who enjoy and participate in the arts. For more information visit

About the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources

The N.C. Arts Council is a division of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, which annually serves more than 19 million people through its 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, the nation’s first state-supported Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the N.C. Arts Council, and the State Archives.

The N.C. Department of Cultural Resources serves as a champion for North Carolina’s creative industry that accounts for more than 300,000 jobs and generates nearly $18.5 billion in revenues. To learn more, visit