One of the most talented artists to come from Randolph County is Tony Willimason. He is a world class mandolin player and musician. If you Google Tony Williamson, you will see a list of his many accomplishments and notice that he is almost always listed as a native of Chatham County. Chatham County is where Tony has lived for many years, but I remember him from my youth at Ramseur School and consider him as a Randolph County (Ramseur) native. Tony started school at Ramseur in the first grade, a year ahead of me in 1960, but we shared many of the same classes at Ramseur. I remember in Ms. Madge Caviness’s combined 5th and 6th grade class, Tony and I were rivals, always competing to see which one would outdo the other. I especially remember a spelling contest where we were the two finalists, and Tony beat me for the honor of being champion. I was never practically good at spelling or English either for that matter. Tony has always excelled in whatever he chose to do. He was Randolph County finalist for the Morehead Scholarship in 1971 when he graduated from Eastern Randolph, and went on to earn the highest degree from UNC at Chapel Hill. I lost track of Tony for a long time after graduation, but Tony and his brother Gary continued to make headlines in the bluegrass music community. Several years ago, the two Williamson brothers came to our church, Parks Crossroads Christian, and performed some old time gospel tunes with Tony on his famous mandolin and Gary on Guitar. He has lived an interesting and eventful life, full of challenges and certainly many accomplishments.
There is no doubt that Tony is smart, but his talent for music, especially the mandolin, is extoridinar. Along with his older brother Gary, the two became a sensation in the Bluegrass World. Currently Tony lives in Chatham County with his wife in a restored 19th century home and operates Mandolin Central , a company dedicated to finding, restoring and selling classic Mandolins.
David McCarty, a staff writer for Fretboard Journal , Bluegrass Unlimited and Mandolin Magazine had this to say about Tony:
“Quite simply, what Tony Williamson doesn’t know about mandolin is probably not worth knowing. As a player, collector, dealer, historian and mandolin community activist, Williamson has helped keep the mandolin’s great American legacy alive while uplifting and encouraging generations of modern players. From bluegrass, to classical, pop and other forms, Tony Williamson is a national treasure”
Tony was a recipient of the 2018 North Carolina Heritage Award as a visionary musician, composer, musical instrument expert and teacher. He has been performing and receiving awards for nearly 50 years and continues to perform live and travel internationally today.
Tony was raised in rural Randolph County into a family of wood-workers and musicians. His grandfather, Alfred, made his own musical instruments and inspired his grandchildren with his love of music and stringed instruments. Tony and his brother Gary won first place in the coveted “World Championship” at Union Grove, North Carolina in 1969 with their band The Bluegrass Gentlemen and were featured on the cover of Bluegrass Magazine. In 1975, Tony went on the road with a touring band, the Bluegrass Alliance, whose alumni include Vince Gill, Sam Bush, and Tony Rice. Afterward, he worked with a succession of bands that led him to the top of his field playing classical, jazz and folk music. His credits include performances on stage and recordings with Alison Krauss, Chris Thile, Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Bobby Hicks, Tony Rice, Vassar Clements, David Grisman, Sam Bush, Mike Marshall, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Don Stiernberg and Robie and Linda Williams of Prairie Home Companion fame. In addition to the prestigious NC Heritage Award, his list of honors includes the IBMA recorded event of the year in 1994 and many on stage performances such as repeat performances at the Merlefest Festival, an annual music festival held in Wilkesboro, NC.
David Ryoko of the Chicago Tribune said back in 2001 that “Tony Williamson is among the finest mandolinist alive and his instrumental passages dazzle…. This is great music”. Tony’s tours have included performances in almost every state in the US, as well as appearances in France, Ireland, Japan, Taiwan, Brazil, Peru, Canada and Italy. He brings to stage a love of music, a deep connection to his North Carolina roots, an enthusiasm to take those roots to creative new realm and a wonderful knowledge of musical instruments and their history.
Acoustic Musician Magazine wrote ”Mandolin Virtuoso Tony Williamson sure can play, and what he doesn’t know about mandolins, nobody does!”
*Courtesy: Tony’s Bio on the Mandolin Central website. http://www.mandolincentral.com/tonywilliamson-bio
The following is a bio that was posted in 2014 by Bluegrass Bios.
TONY AND GARY WILLIAMSON (THE WILLIAMSON BROTHERS)
- From Siler City, North Carolina.
- Tony is a well-known mandolin virtuoso, with several solo projects to his credit.
- Their grandfather was in Company B, 52nd Regiment of the North Carolina Troops who marched with General Lee up Seminary Ridge, July 3, 1863 in the Battle of Gettysburg. He survived.
- First band: The Bluegrass Gentlemen (1970) which made the cover of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine.
- Gary earned his Ph.D in educational research from Stanford University. He works full-time for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
- Tony owns a musical instrument company called Mandolin Central.
- 1977, Gary was a member of the Bluegrass Alliance.
- 1978, Tony worked with the Richard Greene band.
- 1989-1991, Tony was a member of the group ASH&W (He was the “W”).
- 1994, Tony performed with a one-man show called “The Sound of the American Mandolin.” He has a degree in music from the University of North Carolina.
- 1995, Tony and Gary formed a duo called The Williamson Brothers.
- 1995, Tony released solo project “Across the Grain” (Plucked String).
- 1996 , Tony released solo project “All for Naught” (Mandolin Central).
- 1998, The Williamson Brothers released “My Rocky River Home” (Mandolin Central).
- 1999, the Tony Williamson Trio released “Christmas at Doobie Shea” album (Doobie Shea).
- 2000, released Let Us Cross Over the River album (Doobie Shea).
- 2003, Tony released Sessions at McBain Mill album (Bonfire).
- 2003, the Williamson Brothers released “Still Light of the Evening” album (WildChild).
- 2011, Tony released “Lloyd Loar Mandolins” album (Mandolin Central).
- 2013, The Williamson Brothers released”Bluegrass!” album (Flatt Mountain).
- 2018, received the North Carolina Heritage Award.