BiographyThe Whitetop Mountaineers is made up of the young duo, Martha Spencer and Jackson Cunningham. They both live in Whitetop, VA, at the highest mountains in Virginia. Their shows feature old time country duet singing, up-tempo old time fiddle, clawhammer banjo, bluegrass mandolin and guitar instrumentals as well as high energy Appalachian dancing.
Jackson and Martha have played concerts, festivals, workshops, and dances throughout the United States, UK, Ireland and Australia including such venues as: Merlefest, Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC, National Folk Festival in Richmond, GrahamfestUSA, San Francisco Bluegrass and Old Time Festival, Folklore Society of Greater Washington, Cornish Bluegrass Festival in England, Tamworth Country Music Festival in NSW, Australia, Open House Festival in Belfast Ireland, and Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland, Australia, The National Folk Festival in Canberra, Australia, The National Folk Festival in Butte Montana, The Port Fairy Folk Festival in Port Fairy, Australia, The Apollo Bay Music Festival in Apollo Bay, Australia, along with many other festivals and venues.
In Fall of 2007, they were also included on the NCTA: Crooked Road Mountain Music Tour of the West Coast, and again in 2010, The Crooked Road East Coast Tour.
Along with performing as a duet act, they also are members of the Whitetop Mountain Band, which is made up mostly of the Spencer family and is one of the most popular old time bands in Southwest Virginia. The band has won many competitions and awards in band, vocals, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, duet singing, and dance throughout the years in Fiddler’s Conventions throughout the Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and other southern states. The Spencer family and Whitetop Mountain Band has also been featured in a number of magazine articles, books, and television and radio programs including "A Hotbed of Musicians", "Strings of Life", "In Good Keeping", "Guide to the Crooked Road", PBS, and CMT.
They have recorded three CDs, The most recent, "Virginia-Carolina", was released in October 2012, 2008 release on Heritage Records of "Home on the Mountain" as well as the 2010 release of the self-produced "Go Away with Me: Songs from Virginia's Hills and Hollers", and with the band on many recordings throughout the years such as Arhoolie, Heritage and Virginia Foundation for the Humanities "Crooked Road Series" label. The WTMB's newest release "Loafer's Dream" on Mountain Roads Recordings has been getting airplay worldwide and was #14 on the Roots Music Report National Bluegrass Chart for February 2009 (#7 RMR Virginia State Charts Feb/March 2009).
Photo by Susan Roark
Martha grew up on Whitetop Mountain in a musical family; her uncle Albert Hash was legendary fiddler and instrument maker that gained widespread attention for his music and craft. He had a great impact on old time music and taught countless musicians and luthiers. Her parents, Thornton Spencer and Emily Spencer, are the leaders of the Whitetop Mountain Band and are well known and respected musicians and teachers of old time music. Her great-grandfather, Bud Spencer, won many big dance competitions such as the Whitetop Folk Festival in the 1930s. Martha began dancing and playing at very young age. Now, Martha plays fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass, dulcimer and sings. She has won competitions on banjo, fiddle, and vocals. She has also been widely recognized for her Appalachian dancing. She has took part in Master Workshops on Dance at the National Folk Festival (USA), Woodford Folk Festival (AU), and Lowell Folk Festival (USA) and been featured as a dancer at several other festivals and workshops. In 2006, Martha and her father, took part in the Virginia Foundation of the Humanities Master/Apprenticeship Program for Old Time Fiddling Tradition. Martha has also been very active in passing on the music and dance traditions to youth in her local school and neighboring county schools as well. Since high school, she taught as a Junior Appalachian Music (JAM) instructor in Ashe County, NC, and currently teaches in the JAM program in Ashe and Watauga County in fiddle, banjo, guitar, and dance instruction.
Jackson, grew up in southern Oregon in a musical family. His father plays several instruments and sings and plays country and traditional music. Jackson's grandmother was also a very accomplished musician, singer, and music teacher. His mother and brothers all play, sing and write songs as well.
Jackson began playing the guitar at the age of nine and currently plays mandolin, harmonica, clawhammer banjo as well as singing lead and harmony parts. Jackson has played in several bluegrass and old time bands from the West to the East Coast.
Jackson has also recorded and performed with trio and duet groups. He has a recording for the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities "Crooked Road" Series with Anya Hinkle entitled "Old Time Duets", and appeared on Mac and Jenny Traynham's latest album, "Never Grow Old".
Since moving to Virginia, he has drawn much attention for his powerful traditional mandolin playing and high lonesome singing.
Jackson is also carrying on the fiddle making tradition of Whitetop. He has studied under the tutelage of Audrey Hash Ham, Albert Hash's daughter and a well-respected luthier, in the fiddle-making tradition, and also builds archtop guitars and banjos. There is more information on Jackson's instruments on Jackson's shop page.