Education Performing Arts

JAM Connects Youth to Community, Music and Mountain Tradition

Travis Stuart leading banjo class

In 2000, guidance counselor and traditional musician Helen White established the first after-school program for Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) in Alleghany County. JAM gained rapid popularity across North Carolina and by 2008, White had incorporated a nonprofit organization to serve as a resource hub for the many programs. “JAM builds a sense of place in children from Appalachia, connecting them to their local culture and providing lifelong ties to their home community and music,” says Brett Morris, who has been executive director of JAM since 2014. “Music education provides natural mentorship between young musicians and teaching artists, as well as social skills, self-confidence and a place to belong. JAM is a wonderful way to preserve our unique traditions with the next generations, and also to provide valuable and enriching after-school activity for so many children who otherwise would not have the opportunity.”

The JAM model offers after-school music instruction for children in grades four through eight on instruments common to the Appalachian region, such as fiddle, banjo and guitar. Each JAM program is individually operated and funded. The model has also been applied in other states, including Virginia, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The Haywood County JAM program (which is offered through 12th grade) gives local students the ability to learn mountain music in the traditional style, with professional and well-known teachers at a very low cost. “Students of all socio-economic backgrounds can learn a new skill and develop friendships that can last a lifetime,” says Morgan Beryl, executive director of the Haywood County Arts Council. “We’ve heard stories of some students starting their musical careers in JAM and later continuing to study throughout college and eventually becoming professional performers.”

Cary Fridley teaches at the Haywood County JAM program as well as the programs in Madison County and Black Mountain. “JAM is an invaluable resource to the WNC community,” she says. “It is preserving the history of the mountains in the most meaningful way possible, through teaching music. Having experienced old-time musicians as teachers and role models for JAM students helps them believe in their own success and ability to reach new levels of musical achievement.”

For more information or to find a JAM program near you, visit

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