Bob Fulcher

Bob Fulcher’s legacy as a public folklorist stretches four decades and is unrivaled in the state of Tennessee. His fieldwork on the Cumberland Plateau, which began in the 1970s, led to the discovery of traditional musicians and singers of extraordinary quality and rarity. In 1979 Fulcher secured funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to begin the groundbreaking Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project. Since that time, Fulcher has released over two dozen albums of his field recordings and helped start over 20 public events and festivals in Tennessee state parks that continue to this day—some having lasted now for 40 years.

Today, Fulcher is the Park Manager of the Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail. In 2011, he helped found Sandrock Recordings, a music label specializing in traditional music of East Tennessee. Fulcher has spent his career following a mandate that park custodians must conserve and interpret the cultural world with the same focus as they do the natural one.

His field research brought attention to some of the finest traditional musicians ever known, including: Dee and Delta Hicks, ballad singers with an extensive family repertoire perhaps unmatched in the United States; and Clyde Davenport, a master fiddler with a deep stock of traditional tunes and an NEA Heritage Fellow recipient; among dozens of others. He has also mentored and helped shape young folklorists, including many who launched prominent careers, such as Betsy Peterson, current director of the American Folklife Center at the U.S. Library of Congress; Tom Rankin, former director of Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies; Betty Belanus, of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival; Jay Orr, Senior Director for Research, Editorial, and Content at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum; and Brent Cantrell, Executive Director of Jubilee Community Arts. Fulcher has been invited to give lectures at the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution, National Folk Festival, National Park Service, Center for Southern Folklore, Southern Arts Federation, University of Illinois, University of Chicago, University of Georgia, Appalachian State University, Berea College and the Tennessee Arts Commission.

As director of the Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project and continuing with the Cumberland Trail Music and Heritage Project, Fulcher has overseen the creation of hundreds of hours of oral history interviews as well as thousands of slides and photographs. The topics span the full range of Tennessee folklife, including occupational lore, community history and land use, craft and custom, game and ritual, and expressive life, especially music. Today the collection is housed at the Tennessee State Library and Archives and stands as the largest compilation ever made of Tennesseans in their own voices and music.

In 2000 Fulcher received the Botkin Prize from the American Folklore Society for his lifetime achievements in public folklore. He is the first folklorist to receive the Tennessee Folklife Heritage Award.

Special thanks to Jay Orr and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Still photos courtesy of Bob Fulcher.
Videography by Dr. Bradley Hanson; Editing by Christie Caldwell; Voice-over by Sandra Harris; Directed by Suzanne Lynch and Dr. Bradley Hanson