George Shuffler, bluegrass legend and 2007 North Carolina Heritage Award winner passed away on Monday, April 7, 2014 in his home in Valdese at the age of 88.
Born in Burke County in 1925, Shuffler left home in his teens to pursue a music career. He made his living as professional musician with the Stanley Brothers and Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys.
He was also a well-known gospel performer and one of his compositions, When I Receive My Robe and Crown, stayed in the national gospel music charts for eleven months.
In both genres, he made artistic contributions that continue to inspire musicians and listeners today. In addition to the North Carolina Arts Council’s Heritage Award he received the IBMA Distinguished Achievement Award in 1996. In 2011 he was inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame for his cross picking style of guitar playing and his walking bass style of bass playing. In 2013, he was inducted into the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Hall of Fame.
“George was known internationally for his guitar innovation of the cross-picking technique,” said Laura Boosinger, traditional folk artist, who toured with Shuffler for many years. “He has been one of the most influential acoustic guitar players in traditional bluegrass circles.”
As a young boy, George attended yearly shape-note singing schools held in local churches. The teacher quickly noticed George’s ear for harmony. Any student who had trouble with a part was admonished to “listen to Shuffler there, he’ll keep you right.” At home, George would hear his father “thump around” on the banjo. When George expressed an interest in music, his father traded an old car for a guitar. One of his father’s co-workers in a Valdese textile mill taught George three basic chords and he soon began improvising “homemade” accompaniment inspired by musicians he heard on radio. In 1941, at the age of sixteen, George joined a local band that performed live radio shows. When The Bailey Brothers, an established professional band, heard George substitute for their missing bass player on a show date in Granite Falls, they offered him a full-time job. He packed his bags and left for Nashville, Tennessee.
George toured with several groups in the 1940s and also played with his brothers, who are talented musicians. In 1950, he began a twenty-year association with the Stanley Brothers in which he helped set the standard for bluegrass guitar picking and bass playing. In order to complement Ralph and Carter Stanley’s singing on slow songs, George developed a unique cross-picking style that transformed the guitar into a lead as well as a rhythm instrument. His “walking” bass technique, which energized breakdowns and fast songs, has been emulated by successive generations of bluegrass musicians.
His teenage daughters inspired George to make the transition from bluegrass to southern gospel. After hearing them sing in a small church choir, George remembers thinking, “My goodness gracious, what I have been missing here! And so I asked them, ‘if y’all will sing with me, I’ll do all the legwork and we’ll go from there. And I’ll never put you in an embarrassing position.’” The Shuffler Family started out singing traditional songs but soon began performing George’s compositions.
“I feel lucky to have known him and the whole Shuffler family,” Boosinger said. “They are warm, generous and fun loving people who cherish God, family and community.”
Below are links to other tributes: