Parkway Playhouse Presents Esley: The Life & Musical Legacy of Lesley Riddle


The influence of the Carter Family Singers (AP Carter, Sarah Carter, and Maybelle Carter) is still felt today. Their brand of Bluegrass, gospel, and mountain music that they recorded in the early days of radio led to what we now recognize as popular country music. However, the role of Lesley Riddle, an African-American musician from Burnsville, North Carolina, in the The Carter Family’s rise has remained a largely untold story.

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Photo by Rob Storrs. Copyright 2015 Rob Storrs.

Riddle, who was born in 1905, met AP Carter in 1928.  The two men then collected songs by traveling through the remote Appalachian Mountains, with Carter writing down lyrics and Riddle learning and memorizing the melodies to countless traditional songs. Many of these songs might have been “lost” to time, had it not been for the efforts of Carter and Riddle.

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Photo by Rob Storrs. Copyright 2015 Rob Storrs.

The Carter Family went on to record a number of songs that Riddle either composed or transmitted, including “Cannonball Blues,” “Hello Stranger,” “I Know What It Means To Be Lonesome,” “Let the Church Roll On,” “Bear Creek Blues,” “March Winds Goin’,” “Blow My Blues Away” and “Lonesome For You.” Riddle’s guitar technique made an impression on Maybelle Carter who imitated Riddle’s unique picking style.

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Rehearsal photo by Rob Storrs. Copyright 2015 Rob Storrs.

Riddle, who did not participate in the huge successes that the Carters enjoyed, retired from music and was on the verge of disappearing into obscurity when folk music legend Mike Seeger tracked him down in 1965. Seeger convinced Riddle to return to recording and playing music.  Riddle passed away in 1980 in Asheville, NC.

Parkway Playhouse’s photo of the 2009 cast of Esley: The Life and Musical Legacy of Lesley Riddle in performance.

In 2009, Parkway Playhouse collaborated with area playwright Jeff Douglas Messer to bring Lesley Riddle’s story to the stage as a folk musical called  Esley: The Life and Musical Legacy of Leslie Riddle.  The production was an enormous success and Parkway Playhouse is mounting a new production of Esley (which was Riddle’s nickname) that will open on June 27 and continue through July 11.

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Rehearsal photo by Rob Storrs. Copyright 2015 Rob Storrs.

The 2015 production of Esley is being directed by Michael Lilly (who directed the original 2009 production). The cast includes Parkway Playhouse newcomers JJ Ponton, in the title role of Leslie Riddle; Ash Devine as Maybelle Carter, and Sara Lynch-Thompson as Sarah Carter. Burnsville native, Dalton Woody, a veteran of many Parkway Playhouse productions will appear as A.P. Carter. The cast also features local music favorites Ron and Minnie Powell; as well as, Peyton Yearick, Doug Shaw, and Rob Storrs in featured roles.

Come see Esley: The Life and Musical Legacy of Lesley Riddle opening June 27th- July 11th at Parkway Playhouse!

CLICK HERE to buy tickets now!

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Parkway Playhouse, located in the Appalachian town of Burnsville, NC, is a haven of theatre talent. While people come to the mountains to get away, Parkway Playhouse is a natural gathering place to connect. Likewise, we are an extension of traditional mountain talents: singing, dancing, and, foremost, storytelling. By giving rise to energetic new voices and through a wide variety of plays and musicals, we invite our audience into experiences that are thought-provoking, adventurous, and entertaining. Together we reimagine the world in every live performance, creating dynamic conversations that last far beyond the curtain call. This blog is will feature stories, helpful information, insight and features about the performances.

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