Although there is some slight dispute over her exact birthday, records say Ola Belle Campbell Reed, was born on August 18, 1916, in Lansing, North Carolina. She was the fourth of thirteen children born to Arthur and Ella May Campbell.

A singer, songwriter, guitarist and clawhammer banjo player, Ola Belle described herself as follows: “I’m a hillbilly and I sing hillbilly music.” 

Murphy Hicks Henry writes of Ola Belle in her book Pretty Good for a Girl: Women in Bluegrass:

She could have just as easily pronounced herself a folk artist, for in her unpublished autobiography she says, “All my life I knew the folk field existed and that someday. . . . I’d be part of it.” In fact, the music she is best known for today is found on the four folk albums she recorded in the 1970s. These LPs feature her at her old-timey best, playing clawhammer banjo and singing her original songs. But even as a folksinger Ola Belle refused to be stereotyped. As she says, “I didn’t exaggerate my hillbilly ways by putting on a gingham dress. The things I wear fit me good.”

Ola Belle was awarded an NEA National Heritage Fellowship in 1986. Ola Belle passed away in 2002 just shy of her 86th birthday. Her life and music are is celebrated at the Ola Belle Reed Music Festival, held in her home town annually in August.

 

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