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Ashe woman has spent life working to preserve history

SUBMITTED PHOTO
Sharon Kellam wrote several definitive books on shape-note singing and is seen here performing her beloved style of music.



About “Sandspurs”

The book, written by Kellam, is a 373 page book on the documented history of Salemburg. It contains a collection of events, places, people and their stories from 1874 to 1974. Also included are maps of the village and the campus of the private academy, Pineland College and Edwards Military Institute, which now serves as the North Carolina Justice Academy.

According to Kellam, the book is aimed at remembering and honoring the individuals who contributed to the history of Salemburg, the village and the school.

Mollie Jones, president of Pineland College, is remembered and honored in the book as a woman who was dedicated to educating young girls in North Carolina and preparing them for the future.

The book is dedicated to Tempie Leigh Driver, known as “Mama Driver,” to Kellam.

“She stepped in to raise me when my birth mother stepped out,” Kellam said.

In the book’s introduction, Kellam wrote, “The older I get the more I am aware that what happened here in Salemburg during those one hundred years was extremely unusual and very special! As time passed, I kept thinking that someone would write it! Indeed Mrs. Mollie Jones … had said to Alsa Gavin, an instructor in the 1930s, ‘Mr. Gavin, someday someone will write this!’ However, time moved and alas, no one did. I began to fear that it might not be written and I felt passionately that it should be!

“It was a gestalt; encompassing the relationships, the support and the love that occurred between the church, the village and the schools,” she wrote. “We were in a place that was good, beautiful, safe and nearly self-sufficient. There was much love between the people, which made us all for a while, better than we really are!”

Originally published: Aug. 8, 2013
Last modified: Aug. 8, 2013

Heather Samudio

Sharon Kellam has lived a full life with music and writing taking a top priority along with her family and friends.

Aside from being a mother, a sister and a grandmother, Kellam is a musician, storyteller, historian, shape-note singer and music teacher. Many people in the area know her through the shape-note singing meetings and the various instruments she has taught in and around Ashe County.

In addition, she ran a sewing shop on King Street in Boone for a year and was a member of the quilt guild for years in Watauga County. She also worked part-time at Caldwell Community College in Boone where she created some classes for the program.

 “Sharon is a multi-talented person who has accomplished many different things during her lifetime,” said Mary Kay Forbes, who attended Greensboro College with Kellam in the early 1960s.

Kellam was born June 26, 1942, and raised in North Carolina. The High Country has been her home for more than 25 years.

She is focused on preserving the history she knows and has researched for years, keeping alive the memory of the people, the music and the school she fondly called home.

“It is my hope that her love and passion for the mountain lore and tradition she describes in her books and CDs will not be lost to the generations yet to come,” Forbes said. “She is one who Greensboro College can be immensely proud to claim.”

Her third bout with cancer has placed urgency on her goal to put together a documentary on Salemburg, where her beloved school, Pineland College and Edwards Military Institute was located.

The school was where Kellam says her love of music grew.

She was first introduced to music on “a remote little farm in Virginia,” with her adopted-granddaddy who would sing in the traditional shape-note style.

“This was the layperson’s music and the music of the people,” Kellam said, adding that the style is Celtic and predates Christianity. “It is the music the pilgrims brought to the new world.”

Among the six books she has written are books on the shape-note style, the documented history on Salemburg, “We Were Sandspurs. Within the Dash, 1874-1974,” and two companion books to “Sandspurs.”

Kellam graduated from Greensboro High School, earned a bachelor of music from Greensboro College and later a masters of music from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

She majored in voice and piano with a minor in viola; however, during the last two years of her education, she switched to an education major so she could qualify to teach music.

She ended up creating her own courses for teaching music and says she taught for almost 50 years.

During her life, she has learned to play and owned 60 different instruments.

Today, due to various expenses she has incurred from medical costs to researching and writing her books, she has sold all but two of her instruments.

She recalled each instrument and was happy that each of them went to people who would continue to play them.

In addition to her writing and music, Kellam has worked in the fabric arts, creating quilts, as well as crocheting and knitting hats, scarves and clothes.

Through each of her interests, her goal of preserving and remembering history has been interwoven through teaching, writing and singing about what she knows and loves.

“As a dedicated musician, a storyteller, an author, a gifted vocalist and creative seamstress, her numerous talents have been shared throughout our state,” Forbes said. “I feel fortunate to know her. She has a wealth of knowledge about the people who inhabit our mountain region and has led, taught and inspired spiritual music with her vast talents.”

Now as she undergoes chemotherapy for stage four liver cancer, she said the doctors have told her she can measure her life in months and not years.

“The chemo makes me so sick,” Kellam added. “They can’t operate. They can only pump this chemo or poison into me. It might buy me another year or two, but what quality, what kind of life will it be? At some point, I’ll just say, ‘that’s it. I just can’t take it anymore,’ and stop taking the chemo.”

Kellam admittedly said she is running out of time to get everything she wants done.

“It’s all about history and preserving it,” she said. “And, I’ve always been eaten up by history.”

In her life journey, she has learned a lot, paid that forward to others through teaching and is still working to fit in as much as she can in the time she has left.

She is passionate in what she offers as advice to others.

“You need to reach out and help other people, don’t just text them, damn it,” Kellam said. “We need to have community back. We’re pack animals. We don’t do well isolated and not helping each other.

“We also need to pass on kindness and goodwill,” she added. “We need to remember who we are and where we came from. We need to honor history and people.”

Individuals who would like to learn more about Salemburg, Pineland or shape-note singing, some of Kellam’s books are still available. She can be contacted at (336) 385-1299 or via email at (sharonkellam@gmail.com) For more information, visit http://www.sharonkellam.com.

 
For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.