Jim Vipperman: Traditional Musician and Teacher
by Tanya Jones
Jim Vipperman was born June 12, 1958, in Surry County. He started playing the violin in 1966 with classical lessons from Dr. Ralph Gabriel and Lilly Graham. His father, Johnny Vipperman (whose musical career included a time playing with Bill Monroe’s band in 1951), and also his grandfather, John Will Vipperman, influenced the bluegrass heritage of this talented young man, who grew up on fiddler’s convention stages throughout the region. Other influences came from Mount Airy’s own Tommy Jarrell, Wayburn Johnson, and Buddy Pendleton. Jim Vipperman has also performed with the Doug Dillard Band in Mount Airy during Mayberry Days and has been invited to perform with them in gigs as far away as Alaska. He frequently performs alone and with various groups at local and area events.
To list all the awards and accolades Jim Vipperman has gathered over the years would be nearly impossible, but would include honors at nearly every major gathering of traditional musicians in the region. His most noted achievements would include memberships with a number of local bands, including the McPeak Brothers of Wytheville, Virginia; the Shenandoah Cut-Ups of Troutman, Virginia; and the Sons of Bluegrass of Westfield, North Carolina. By 1996 Jim had won more awards in the top ten than any other fiddle competitor in the history of the Galax Fiddler’s Convention (13 times, with First Place in 1991). The Mount Airy Fiddler’s Convention has bestowed him with first-place honors nine times, so many that he has finally stopped entering.
Jim carries on the tradition by teaching weekly Traditional Arts Program (TAPS) classes at the Surry Arts Council/Andy Griffith Playhouse in Mount Airy, North Carolina, and in-school traditional music classes for more than a hundred students each year. Jim helped to bring the TAPS program to the Surry Arts Council/Andy Griffith Playhouse. He is currently serving as a mentor in the TAPS program in addition to teaching the weekly group classes. He teaches free fiddle and guitar lessons each Thursday evening, year round, at the Andy Griffith Playhouse and has done so for over ten years. Jim leads the TAPS classes in performances in the lobby of the Andy Griffith Playhouse before selected events. Jim allows parents, grandparents, siblings, and visitors to attend and participate in his classes. Numerous local musicians who want their children and grandchildren to learn to play accompany their children in “Vip’s” classes. One of the most noted of these was Clyde Johnson, a member of the Slate Mountain Ramblers and the long-time host of WPAQ’s live weekly broadcast The Merry-Go-Round. Jim encourages his students to enter competitions, and to get on stage and perform. He has done so much not only for preservation of the music traditions but also for the self-esteem of hundreds of area youth. Jim accompanies his students to competitions and assists in the promotion of youth involvement in local traditional music events. He is currently teaching weekly guitar, banjo, and mandolin lessons to the Future Farmers of America in after school classes at the Andy Griffith Playhouse. Jim leads old-time and bluegrass workshops at the annual Mount Airy Fiddler’s Convention each year for the Surry Arts Council. He also encourages Benton Flippen, Verlen Clifton, and other local masters to share their stories and styles with both local youth and out of town guests who attend the convention.
Jim has the enviable and rare gifts of being both a talented performer and also a teacher. He can shift from genre to genre effortlessly and can play anything that he hears.
Jim has contributed immeasurably to the preservation, promotion, and protection of the musical heritage of Surry County with his tireless efforts to teach and pass on his knowledge to the next generation. He is filled with tales that accompany his teaching, which makes the music come alive for his students. He responds to their natural talents, whether they’re leaning to old-time, bluegrass, jazz, blues, or other styles. We are grateful that he is in Mount Airy and Surry County helping us to pass on our music heritage. I know of no one who has spent more time in their life passing on these traditions to others.
Tanya Jones is the Executive Director of the Surry Arts Council in Mount Airy, North Carolina.
Jones, Tanya. “Jim Vipperman: Traditional Musician and Teacher.” North Carolina Folklore Journal 56.2 (2009): 19-21.