Manco Sneed

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When Mary Sneed Freeman died in June 2001 in the Cherokee Indian Hospital in North Carolina, it was the end of a musical family whose roots could be traced back not only into the fascinating interminglings…
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When Mary Sneed Freeman died in June 2001 in the Cherokee Indian Hospital in North Carolina, it was the end of a musical family whose roots could be traced back not only into the fascinating interminglings of Native American and Appalachian musical cultures, but into the early development of American fiddling styles as well. With a name like something invented by Groucho Marx, her father Manco Sneed was a Cherokee Indian fiddler who learned and passed on traditional music he had picked up first-hand from some of the earliest-known American fiddlers, such as Dedrick Harris, also known as J.D. Harris.

Sneed was also one of the earliest performers on the Grand Ole Opry, although much less is known about him than other early Opry acts such as black harmonica player DeFord Bailey. Both daughters Mary and Martha Sneed performed on the Opry with their father, the latter singing while the multi-talented Mary played guitar, banjo, and fiddle.

Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter John Hartford provides an illustration of Sneed's influence on his album Wild Hog in the Red Brush, a collection of traditional fiddle music. The version of "Molly Put the Kettle On," not at all the familiar interpretation most bluegrass or old-time music fans would be aware of, was one passed down from Dedrick Harris through Manco Sneed. Sheet music of some of Sneed's fiddle performances are also available. The collection Masters of Old Time Fiddling contains not only the previously mentioned "Molly Put the Kettle On," but also includes Sneed's versions of "Georgia Belle and "Lady Hamilton."