Cap’s Off to You!-Ray Hicks (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Ray Hicks

Traditional Teller, Gentle Giant, Storyteller

Ray Hicks is unforgettable. Back in 2000, I got to hear him tell at the National Storytelling Festival. The tent was full so the front rows could not be taken. I could stand back and watch him and the rest of the audience. I had read so much about him, and I was witnessing a great heritage-keeper. He loomed over the stage, and even curved over a bit towards the audience – never seeming to stand straight up. His eyes gleamed as if to acknowledge the audience before him while simultaneously having a slight far-off look into that Appalachian Jack Tale world. As he spoke, his accent made it difficult to distinguish certain words. The more he spoke, the more I got used to his rhythm and speech patterns. In a couple minutes, I understood what he was saying and could follow along for the rest of the concert.

Many people have similar memories of Ray Hicks.

Ray Hicks was born Lenard Ray Hicks…but “Ray” came more natural so say. He lived on Beech Mountain in North Carolina. He was discovered as this amazing traditional teller and told at the first National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Working with a microphone was quite foreign compared to telling tales on the front porch. Yet, by the next festival – as he told at every National Storytelling Festival until he passed on – he had a handle of that microphone.

By 1983, Ray Hicks received National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. As you can guess, that is the highest honor for traditional arts in the United States.

Ray wasn’t the only storyteller in his family. In fact, he was the eighth generation storyteller. Being that he was the fourth of 11 children, can you imagine the tale swapping between all of them?

From 1951 to 2003, Ray lived upon the earth and gathered up Jack tales and hunting stories passed on from person to person. While working the land as a farmer or a mechanic, Ray got by though nothing gave him more pleasure than telling those Southern Jack tales. It felt like Ray had met this Jack at one time.

Others have many more memories of actually traveling to his homestead in the mountains.

Sadly, a fire took that home and the surrounding outbuildings on May 25, 2021. Click here to see that article.

Do you have memories of him? Need to get to know him?

Here are some sites, videos, or articles featuring Ray Hicks:

http://www.rayhicks.com – a most amazing tribute to Ray Hicks complete with videos, audio, and memories (and you can still submit memories)

New York Times article when Ray Hicks passed – https://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/27/nyregion/ray-hicks-who-told-yarns-older-than-america-dies-at-80.html

Essay – Ray Hicks: The Mysterious Healer – https://muse.jhu.edu/article/434565/pdf

Los Angeles Times article when Ray Hicks passed – https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2003-apr-27-me-hicks27-story.html

Ray Hicks, from Local Storyteller to Cultural Icon: A Bibliography – https://www.jstor.org/stable/40934979?seq=1

The Giant Storyteller: Ray Hicks Tales Bore the Unmistakable Twang and Sensibilities of Early Appalachia –https://wncmagazine.com/feature/giant_storyteller

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

I appreciate Ray Hicks for his opening of his home, porch, kitchen table, all the way to the stage to hear those fantastic Jack tales and family stories of from Appalachia. Thank you, Ray.

Ray still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.

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