OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACarol Ison (Director, Cowan Community Center) is a native of the Cowan community and a retired educator from the Letcher County Public School System. She began as a teacher, but later became a Guidance Counselor, Family Resource & Youth Services Coordinator, Grant Writer, Public Relations Director, and Community Education Director. During all of her professional years, she maintained her role with the Cowan Community Center. She and her husband, Kendall, went to school in the three-room schoolhouse that later became the Community Center, and they both were teaching there when the school consolidated. Carol served as President of Cowan Community Center’s board, Cowan Community Action Group, Inc., from the early 70’s until she became the Director in 2008. Next to God and her family, the Center is the most important part of her life.

Brett Ratliff colorBrett Ratliff (Artistic Director)  is a multi-instrumentalist and lifelong apprentice of the Kentucky repertoire who loves to share the stories of his mountain home. Born and raised in Van Lear, Ky, Brett performs as a solo artist and with groups such as the Clack Mountain String Band; the Dirk Powell Band; and Rich & the Po’ Folk. He has also taught at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, Swannanoa Gathering, Sore Fingers Week in England, and Augusta Heritage’s Early Country Music and Old-Time Weeks. Also a community organizer, Brett makes connections between the arts, food-ways and social justice. He has worked toward the wellness of his region with such organizations as Appalshop and the Hindman Settlement School, and helped found the Morehead Old-Time Music Festival and the Lexington Old-Time Gathering. Brett’s first solo release was the 2008 June Appal recording Cold Icy Mountain. Gone Boy, his second solo project was released in 2017.

Stacy Dollarhide Stacy Dollarhide (Program Coordinator) grew up in Letcher County and has been blessed to live on Cowan Creek for the past 20 years, since marrying her high school sweetheart and making their home there. For the past 18 years, Stacy has been in involved in Cowan Community Center programs such as Save the Children, Cowan Creek Mountain Music School, and Grow Appalachia. She has served in several capacities, such as Center Coordinator for the Save the Children program from 2004-2007, Administrative Assistant from 2007-2009, and has consistently served as Bookkeeper since 2004.  To hear music live and played on the banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and guitar has been a most wonderful experience for her. She is grateful the music school has provided an outlet for creativity for so many local youth, including her own two children, Logan and Autumn. The week of the music school to her is likened to “heaven on earth.”

john-harrodJohn Harrod (Dean of the Graduate School) is an inspiring teacher who has been instrumental in creating opportunities for advanced CCMMS students to dig even deeper.  Over the years, he has helped develop and expand our teaching assistant program, which gives advanced students hands-on experience in teaching.  John also heads up the selection committee for the Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprenticeship which allows an outstanding student to work intensively for a year with one of the school’s faculty or visiting masters.  And he has taken the lead in organizing an afternoon of teaching workshops, Sunday, the arrival day for the music school.  This is a program aimed at giving advanced students the skills and confidence needed to teach Kentucky music in their own communities.

Bev May (Minister of Propaganda) is a fiddle student and volunteer who helps with the school brochure, publicity and this website.  If you have any favorite music school photos you would like to share, we would love to have them!  And any suggestions on getting the word out or improving the website would be much appreciated.  Contact Bev at

Cowan Creek Mountain Music School Advisory Board

2016 Advisory Council

From left to right: Rich Kirby, Valerie Horn, Nell Fields, Carol Ison, Dan Cowan, Randy Wilson, Beverly May, Kevin Howard, Isaac Fields.


The CCMMS Advisory Board was established in 2015 to gather your ideas on how the school can improve and be sustained for generations to come.  Please don’t be shy about sharing your ideas with these folks!


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