Benton Flippen (July 18, 1920 – June 28, 2011)
Photo credit: Hobart Jones
James Benton Flippen was born on July 18, 1920, in northern Surry County. In addition to his family, Benton’s primary musical influence was Esker Hutchens. Benton plays the banjo in a two-finger picking style, and plays the fiddle in a more modern long-bow style. Benton is noted for having a very limber wrist that gives him great control over the bow. Benton’s fiddling was heavily influenced by Arthur Smith, Tommy Jackson and other fiddlers he heard broadcast over the radio. In 1948, Benton, with Glen McPeak and the Green Valley Boys, helped Ralph Epperson test out his equipment at WPAQ, and were one of the first groups to play on the legendary station on February 2, 1948. When WPAQ began broadcasting on the Internet on April 5, 2007, Benton, along with Kevin and Trish Fore, played the first tune to be broadcast from WPAQ on the worldwide web. The tune they played was “Bile Them Cabbage Down.”
For several years Benton played with the Camp Creek Boys, but he went on to form his own band, the Smokey Valley Boys, and then for a time played with the Dry Hill Draggers from Ferrum, Virginia. Benton’s strong fiddling led these bands to win awards and trophies at area fiddlers’ conventions. Some of Benton’s signature tunes are “Cricket on the Hearth,” “Whistling Rufus,” and “Polecat Blues.” Over his musical career Benton has also composed several fiddle tunes including “Benton’s Dream,” “Haystack Hoedown,” “Sally in the Turnip Patch” “Flippen’s Waltz” and “Benton’s Haystack Blues.” Even now, at age 89, Benton continues to learn new tunes by listening to recordings.
Benton farmed for a while, and later went to work at the Oakdale Knitting Company in Mount Airy, where he was employed for thirty-seven years. Now retired, Benton spends much of his time playing the fiddle at fiddlers’ conventions, square dances, and at festivals across the country. In 1990, he received the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award.