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Oct. 24, 2022

Johnson City to dedicate Rich-R-Tone historical marker with Nov. 4 ceremony

Johnson City will honor its bluegrass heritage with a special ceremony Friday, Nov. 4 at 11 a.m., when a Tennessee state historical marker commemorating Rich-R-Tone Records is dedicated. The first record label in the world dedicated to Bluegrass music, Rich-R-Tone was located near what is now the Pavilion at Founders Park. The public is invited to celebrate this event, the label’s music, and the key figures who made it possible.

The ETSU Bluegrass Pride Band will offer a musical performance to kick off the festivities, followed by remarks from ETSU’s Dr. Ron Roach and Dr. Ted Olson, and Johnson City Mayor Joe Wise before the unveiling of the marker. Ralph Stanley II will also perform at the ceremony.

 “Johnson City is a significant place in the history of bluegrass and country music,” said Roach, chair of the Department of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University. “In addition to Rich-R-Tone Records, the city hosted some of the most important early country music recording sessions and now is the home of the world-renowned ETSU Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Roots Music Studies program, which has produced some of today’s biggest stars in this kind of music. So Johnson City continues to be the place where bluegrass grows.”

Founded in 1946 by James Hobart Stanton, Rich-R-Tone was the earliest record company based in East Tennessee. In the years the label was based in Johnson City, it issued the first recordings by bluegrass legends the Stanley Brothers and husband-and-wife duo Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, while also documenting a wide range of rural music from Appalachia. The label also released recordings by other first-generation bluegrass musicians, such as the Sauceman Brothers and the Bailey Brothers, as well as recordings by traditional country artists like Buffalo Johnson and Jim Hall. 

To mark the occasion and the importance of these recordings, The Down Home will host a free tribute concert at 7:30 p.m. that night featuring the Brother Boys and the ETSU Bluegrass Pride Band.