Rhonda Gouge lives in the small community of Ledger, in Mitchell County, where she has been teaching music for more than 50 years.
“The main word that comes to mind, is home,” says Rhonda Gouge. “I feel complete. I feel like I’m in my proper element when I’m here in this community. Near where my roots are, near my family members that go way back.”
Gouge’s earliest musical mentor was the fiddle and banjo player Oscar “Red” Wilson, her great-uncle by marriage, who received a Heritage Award in 2003. He taught her the traditional fiddle tunes of the area and helped her with her first recording, which was done in his home studio.
Gouge worked with Wilson for many years as a recording session musician; as a member of his band, the Toe River Valley Boys; and performing with him as a duo in churches and at community functions. “It’s a sense of rightness,” says Rhonda. “Those are the words that come to mind when I think about sense of place.”
Although Gouge worked full-time at a local factory for almost two decades, she continued to teach an increasing number of students and remained musically active, playing in church and at community events, and recording with and traveling with gospel groups on weekends to events, where she was often a groundbreaking presence as a female musician. Gouge eventually was able to teach music full-time and went on to work with more than 1,000 students, some of whom would travel for miles to learn from her.
She has spent her life in Ledger, where she has been both an innovator and tradition-bearer of western North Carolina’s sacred and secular music.
This bio was originally published at ncarts.org.
Photos are by Tom Beck and Zoe van Buren, folklife director at the North Carolina Arts Council.