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From the time she was 2 years old, Clancey Ferguson remembers begging to take violin lessons. No instructor would accept her as a student until she was five, so she worked hard to make up for lost time. She practiced assigned music—the earliest songs she studied were nursery rhymes—in the morning before school, and after school she practiced by playing along with country music records. She progressed rapidly. When she had sawed herself into a corner in her hometown of Pine Bluff, Clancey and her mother Babbie moved to Mountain View, popularly regarded as the Folk Music Capital of the World.
“In Mountain View when you move to town, the first question they ask is, ‘what do you play?’” Clancey relates. “Most of the time during the summer, locals and tourists gather around the courthouse or in the Pickin’ Park to play music. In the winter and late fall when it is chilly, they gather on the porches of the music store and Kin Folks BBQ or in each other’s homes. Where I lived, 75% of our neighbors were musicians so there were many winter nights that my mom would cook a big pot of chili and everyone would come over and play for hours.”
This idyllic musical atmosphere is assured in future generations with Mountain View’s Music Roots program, which provides instruments and training for children. At age nine, Clancey enrolled in the program and began learning to play the guitar. After only a semester in the Music Roots program, Clancey shifted from pupil to teacher and began instructing her fellow students. Meanwhile, with private instruction from some of the teachers in the Music Roots program, Clancey worked hard transitioning her violin to the faster, heartier rhythms of the fiddle, learning the essentials of folk and bluegrass. After two years of teaching in Music Roots, she began organizing students into an ensemble and grooming them to perform. Clancey praises Music Roots due to its being “taught by volunteers who are fabulous musicians” and also because it allows children to “find a talent they never knew was possible,” creating opportunities for its participants—opportunities such as performing for an audience.
Mountain View is not only a good location for learning to play, but also for gaining experience and building confidence as a performer. Clancey’s earliest performances had naturally occurred during recitals, but when she was nine these were eclipsed by what she considers her first “real” performance with the River Rats at Brickshy’s Backstreet Theatre in Mountain View. At the same time, she began playing with family in the Leatherwoods, led by her aunt Pam Setser, and in the Roger Fountain Band, named for and led by her fiddle instructor. Soon Clancey assembled her own band, Clancey Ferguson & the Ragtags. Together they performed for nine years at the Ozark Folk Center. “Bands are like families,” Clancey explains. “It’s not fun to be without them. Besides, I usually dance and perform at the same time and it’s better to have some rhythm behind it all.”
Clancey proved to be something of a child prodigy: at age 11 she released her first album, Traditions, and at age 12 she made her first festival appearance in the Northeast Louisiana Bluegrass festival. She released a second album, At Home in the Ozarks, and performed in fairs and festivals, earning a host of awards annually at the Arkansas State Fair. Along the way she met and performed with award-winning Rhonda Vincent, the “Queen of Bluegrass,” who became a mentor to the young girl and guest-starred on Clancey’s 2013 album Sawing on the Strings. It was Rhonda Vincent who bestowed upon Clancey the honorific the “Princess of Bluegrass.” In addition to musical triumphs, Clancey faced heartbreak as her other hero, her supportive mother Babbie, passed away; to honor her memory, Clancey released a fourth album, Arkansas Traveler, filled with her mother’s favorite songs.
Clancey’s recent marriage took her to Louisiana, where she currently pursues music opportunities in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma regions while studying website development at Northwestern State University (Clancey maintains her own professional website and runs a website development business called Delta Daizy Designz). In addition to performing, Clancey leads classes at workshops, a continuation for the instinct for teaching she developed and exhibited in the Music Roots program. She speaks passionately about the benefits of classical music education: “Music improves mathematic skills, makes history and science fun, and can improve a child’s interest in school.” A wealth of research supports these statements, but on a personal side, Clancey reveals that for some of the children she knows, “music is their only fun activity or joy in life,” serving as both a “safe place” and “an escape from reality.”
Clancey will be performing at the Eureka Spring Bluegrass Festival August 19 at 7 p.m., and the Arkansas County Fair in DeWitt on September 17th from 3-4 pm.
In November, she will be in Hot Springs for the Arkansas Music Educators Conference, where she will both perform and lecture. The most important and practical lesson Clancey can share about music is the value of practice, but she eloquently romanticizes the unique qualities of music: “Music is a universal language that brings everyone together. A picture may say a thousand words but a song captures the story and feelings of the moment.” At only 18, Clancey speaks from a decade of experience.
Clancey continues to dazzle audiences nationwide, using techniques and training she received in Arkansas. The Princess of Bluegrass returns to the Ozarks this month for the Eureka Springs Bluegrass Festival where she will, as always, be sawing on the strings.
Photos Provided Courtesy of Clancey Ferguson and Blair Tinkle Photography
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