The Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprenticeship

The Cowan Community Action Group is pleased to offer an apprenticeship to a student or teaching assistant for the purpose of a year of intensive study with a master musician who has taught at the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School either as an instructor or a visiting master.  The program will fund expenses relating to travel and documentation and will provide an honorarium to the master artist.  The mentor and apprentice will have ample opportunities to showcase the results of their year’s work at local festivals and other venues.  The program is intended to encourage and spread the growing enthusiasm of young people for connecting with the cultural traditions of their region and carrying on these traditions on in their own lives and communities.

charlieanderinThe apprenticeship program honors the memory of Charlie Whitaker, who introduced a new generation to square dancing at the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School, from the first school in 2002 until his passing in 2009 at the age of 80.  Charlie was also the caller of the Carcassonne square dances for over 60 years and led countless dances around the state.  He had a gift for including everyone in the fun of a dance and saw it as a vehicle for helping young folks develop confidence and leadership skills.  Charlie taught and encouraged many new callers, most notably Erin Stidham, who attended her first square dance at the age of 14 at the 2002 CCMMS and became a Kentucky Folklife Apprentice with Charlie two years later.  Erin became the house caller for Cowan Community Center events and joined the CCMMS faculty.  Erin’s apprenticeship has been critical to preserving dance as a vital part of community life in east Kentucky.  The apprenticeship program is intended to honor Charlie’s remarkable lifetime contribution to mountain arts and his mentorship of Erin serves as a guiding example of what we hope the apprenticeship program will achieve.


  • The apprenticeship program is primarily aimed at young adult students or teaching assistants, ages 15 to 30, who are progressing well in their chosen instrument or art and are ready to commit to a year of digging deep into the tradition.
  • The apprenticeship is not limited to music but can also include dance calling, storytelling or other mountain art.
  • Applicants should choose a potential mentor from among the CCCMS faculty and visiting masters, past and present,  and should consider as specifically as possible what skills they would like to gain during the year of study. How frequently and for how long the mentor and apprentice meet is flexible, since there may be significant travel involved.  The schedule of meetings should be agreed upon by both at the beginning of the apprenticeship year.
  • In addition to work with the mentor, the mentor and apprentice may also visit elder masters, perform or lead workshops together.
  • Your application will be strengthened if you contact the prospective mentor and swap ideas for the apprenticeship year before starting the application. If contact info is needed email John Harrod (see below).
  • The mentor will receive a $1000 honorarium for their work with the apprentice and the apprentice will be reimbursed for gas mileage and recording supplies up to, but not exceeding, $1000.  Please see the Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprenticeship Application Form and the Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprenticeship Application Guidance page, below.  One apprentice will be chosen each year in which both funding and a promising applicant are available.

TO APPLY:  Email to request the Application Form and Application Guidance as soon as you are interested in applying.  Follow the application guidance as you fill in the application as a Word document.  No cover letter is needed. Your application will be stronger if you discuss the potential apprenticeship with your chosen mentor before completing the application.  Email John Harrod if contact information for the mentor is needed.  All applications must be returned as a Word email attachment to  before 12:00 noon, June 1st, 2024. 

Questions about the program or application process can be addressed by email to: lostjohnharrod

Applications will be forwarded to a panel of three Cowan Creek Mtn Music School faculty who will choose a potential apprentice and then assure that the chosen mentor is willing and able to work with the apprentice for the year.  All applications must be received by 12:00 noon, June 1, 2024.  The selected apprentice will be announced during the Cowan Creek Mtn Music School and work with the mentor should begin immediately thereafter.


Pierceton Hobbs 22023-2024  Pierceton Hobbs, Mentor – Don Rogers   Pierceton was reared at the headwaters of the Big Sandy River in Dickenson County, Virginia.  The 24 year old multi-instrumentalist and songwriter has been influenced by the musicians, ballad singers and storytellers in the shadow of Pine Mountain.  He currently leads the Pick & Bow afterschool music program at Cowan Community Center and local schools.  Pierceton with work with Don Rogers on guitar technique, including flatpicking.  Many thanks to the Nancy McClellan Charitable Gift Fund for sponsoring this apprenticeship.


Grace Rogers (3)2022-2023 Grace Rogers, Mentor – John Haywood   Grace Rogers, from Bath county, is a guitarist, singer/songwriter and banjo player.  She and John will focus on east Kentucky banjo styles, including two-finger tunes.  Grace plans to share her new tunes and technique with students of the Louisville Folk School and Louisville Public Library.  Many thanks to the Nancy McClellan Charitable Gift Fund for making this apprenticeship possible.



Jimmy & Joey 22019-2020 Jimmy & Joey Webb, Mentor – John Haywood  The Webb twins, from Franklin County, Kentucky are accomplished harmony singers and instrumentalists who at 12 are regular performers at regional festivals and square dances.  Their apprenticeship will allow them to dig deep into the banjo and fiddle duet repertoire of southeast Kentucky.  Many thanks to the family and friends of Charlie Whitaker for making this apprenticeship possible.


Larah2019-2020 Larah Helanye, Mentor – Randy Wilson  Larah is an ambitious 16 year old from Montgomery County, Kentucky.  As a singer/songwriter she aims to use her music to help young people grow in confidence and love of place. In addition to exploring the wealth of traditional song, she also hopes to carry on the mountain tradition of play party games and square dance calling.  Many thanks to the Nancy McClellan Charitable Gift Fund for making this apprenticeship possible.


Lily Smith 2018-2019 Apprentice (2)2018-2019 Lilly Smith, Mentor – Meghan Bryant  Lilly Smith, from Clay County, Kentucky started her musical journey as a violinist and has branched out into traditional fiddle styles. In a heart-warming closing of a musical circle, Lilly is apprentice to the first Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprentice, Meghan Bryant.  Together they are exploring tunes and techniques from Buddy Thomas, Ed Haley and other northeast Kentucky fiddlers.


Katie Peabody2017-2018  Katie Peabody  Mentor- John Harrod   Katie and John are exploring  blues, rags, and the rich contribution of  Kentucky’s African-American fiddlers to American roots music. Their work has been furthered by historian Micheal Jones, author of Louisville Jug Music: From Earl McDonald to the National Jubilee.  Katie’s apprenticeship year will culminate with assisting John in teaching an intermediate/advanced fiddle class at CCMMS focused on the repertoire of Kentucky’s African-American fiddlers.


Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprentice Kelsey Estep will focus on unaccompanied ballad singing with her mentor, Sarah Wood.

2015-2016 Kelsey Estep  Mentor- Sarah Wood  Kelsey, who is an accomplished fiddler, expanded her musicianship in singing and guitar.  Kelsey’s apprenticeship year led to a workshop in unaccompanied ballad singing at CCMMS 2016 and she served as a teaching assistant in fiddle.



meghan bryant 20152014-2015 Meghan Bryant   Mentor- Jesse Wells  Meghan and Jesse explored tunes from the archives of the Morehead State University Center for Traditional Music particularly the northeast Kentucky fiddlers such as Buddy Thomas.  Meghan’s apprenticeship year included assisting Jesse in teaching early intermediate fiddle during CCMMS 2015.


I think the Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprenticeship is a wonderful opportunity for anyone interested in learning more on their instrument. I’m so thankful to Cowan Creek Mountain Music School for being so generous in giving this apprenticeship and making it possible for someone to study music from a master and learn how to carry on the old time music tradition.

I have learned so many things in this year from Jesse. I’ve learned fiddle tunes from Doc Roberts, Kenny Baker, Buddy Thomas, George Lee Hawkins, John Morgan Salyer, and many other great fiddlers. I’ve also learned a lot about other styles, like fiddling in bluegrass, fiddling in country music, playing fiddle in a band, and some music theory. I think this apprenticeship has helped me grow not only as an old time fiddler, but all around as a musician.

I would definitely encourage anyone interested in learning and preserving old time mountain music to attend Cowan Creek Mountain Music School and apply for this apprenticeship. Cowan Creek is a wonderful program and I’ve honestly never been anywhere with such a great atmosphere and so many helpful, encouraging people. It’s definitely one of my favorite weeks of the year. ~Meghan Bryant, Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprentice

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