Roy Harper, Beloved Country Singer, Dead at 96

Beloved country music singer Roy Harper has died. Harper passed away in mid-October at the age of 96, the Tennessee Folklore Society confirmed. In a statement, the organization said, "we are sad to mark the passing of singer and painter Roy Harper," remembering him as "an admired interpreter of early country and sentimental songs and a self-taught artist known for his paintings of trains." Harper's cause of death has not been revealed at this time.

Harper's passing was also confirmed by Spring Fed Records. In an Oct. 18 Facebook post, the group said, "SFR sends our deepest condolences to the family, friends and fans of Roy Harper. Roy was one of the last old time songsters and a legendary Middle Tennessee traditional musician. Enjoy these photos from the Roy Harper Collection at the Center for Popular Music that document his long career as a musician, painter and railroad man."

We are sad to mark the passing of singer and painter Roy Harper of Manchester at age 96. Roy was an admired interpreter...

Posted by Tennessee Folklore Society on Monday, October 18, 2021

Born and raised in Coffee County, Tennessee, Harper found his musical inspiration as a young boy from the railroad and the yodeling songs of Jimmie Rodgers, according to the Tennessee Arts Commission. After leaving home to work on the railroads by the time he was 20, Harper began to perform as an itinerant musician. He gained success in the Manchester, Tennessee region in the '40s and '50s for his partnership with Hawaiian guitarist Blake Bynum in the Sand Mountain Boys. Harper's prolific recording career began in the '60s when "he began recording his huge repertory of both 'blue yodels' and sentimental songs." It was also during this time that Harper made a reputation for himself as a self-taught painter of railroad scenes.

Throughout his decades-long musical career, Harper produced 23 albums, his Governor's Arts Award profile notes. He also performed regularly at traditional music festivals, including the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival and the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife. Harper was also inducted into the Traditional Country Music Hall of Fame.

News of Harper's passing led to an outpouring of tributes. Reacting to Spring Fed Record's statement confirming Harper's death, one person commented that the musician "was a true country artist and a good. friend." Somebody else added that they were sending "prayers for family and friends. Love his music."