Award winning banjo player Lee Sexton recalls memories from 80 years ago

Published: Feb. 19, 2016 at 12:47 PM EST
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Letcher County native Lee Sexton said he was seven years old when he bought his first banjo.

"I was raised awful hard you know and I tried to borrow a dollar off of my grandpa to get the banjo. He had about three acres of corn field and he said if you'll cut all of them corn stalks and pile them up and burn them I'll give you a dollar," said Sexton.

He said it took him nearly a month to clean it all up. He said he ran every step down the line towards this boys home and bought it after his grandfather gave him the dollar.

"I can't read music not a line of it but I can hear a tune from here to New York and if I like the tune I can play it," Sexton said.

He said he started out on an old time drop-thumb banjo. He broke his fingers working in a coal mine and said he had to work out a pattern playing the banjo with only two fingers.

"I started playing square dances and so on and so forth. I got up to be a great big boy and went to a banjo contest up here at Whitesburg at the ballpark and I won that banjo contest," said Sexton.

He said out of all of his career he learned the most from Marion Sumner who he met in 1941.

"I told my mother I said I'd give anything on earth to get to meet that fella and it weren't long until I did meet him and I loved his fiddle and I loved the old man too and I really enjoyed playing with him too," Sexton said.

He said he started working in the big mines in 1950 then retired after getting black lung.

"I finally got through with that and I haven't done nothing but play music and work on the farm since I retired," said Sexton.

"I taught nine young boys. Started with them about seven or eight year old and now they're working and have got jobs playing," Sexton said.

He said musicians visit him from everywhere in the world to hear him play and to talk to him.

"I played all over the world buddy. I stay busy all the time. I'm getting up in years now though. I'll soon be 88 years old next month but I'm slowing down," said Sexton.