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News obit: Nelia Hyatt, matriarch of famous Asheville bluegrass jam, dies

Nelia Hyatt, who once hosted a long-running bluegrass jam with her husband Wayne on Brevard Road, has died. She was 99.

The bluegrass jam started as an informal gathering at the Hyatts’ home, 627 Brevard Road, in the 1940s, drawing everyone from amateur pickers to Grammy winners to play in its circle. Fans from around the world descended on the Hyatts’ modest home and garage, which was dubbed Ms. Hyatt’s Opera House (or Mrs. Hyatt’s Music House), to hear the old-time music. The garage was filled with old church pews for listeners to soak up the banjo and fiddle music, and cheer on the occasional buck dancer. Its walls were covered with snapshots of those who visited.

The bluegrass jam at Mrs. Hyatt’s Music House./photo by Jason Sandford

Nelia Hyatt kept the music going despite the 1984 death of her husband, who started the gathering as a way for his fellow workers at the railroad to get together and enjoy some music and fellowship. Time wore on and the legend grew. Guests have included Grammy winners like Bryan Sutton and David Holt, while visiting groups of students and teachers from local colleges dropped by.

International news outlets also discovered the Hyatts’ house and music jam, which was built on rolling pasture land with a pastoral westward view of the surrounding mountains.

In recent years, encroaching development threatened, and finally took, the Hyatts’ home around 2013. The location is now the site of a car dealership.

Nelia Hyatt’s family tried to keep the bluegrass jam going in recent years, but the effort has lagged to preserve the tradition.

The funeral service for Nelia Hyatt is set for 1 p.m. on Feb. 18 in the Sanctuary of Grassy Branch Baptist Church. She will be laid to rest with her late husband Wayne Hyatt following Saturdays Service, in the Forest Lawn cemetery, in Candler. Visitation for friends and family will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 17 at 5:30 pm. Following visitation there will be a musical celebration of her life, held in the gymnasium at Grassy Branch Church. Musicians and friends are encouraged to participate in the open Jam. Food and refreshments will be provided.

More from the official obituary of Bertha Cornelia Hyatt:

Until Wayne’s death in 1984, Thursday night was a very busy musical night in the Music House on Brevard Road. Each Thursday, Nelia cleaned the Music House, the coffee pots were filled and supper served. People would arrive sometimes as early as four o’clock to get their fill of Nelia’s fixins. Music started at 6:00. The traditional mountain music, from bluegrass to old-time country and the gospel music that has shaped the hearts of the people mountain people sounded through the Music House. There were many different elements that each person brought to the Music house, and all left knowing that this is a genuine experience.

When Wayne died in 1984, the Music House became quiet. There was no music on Brevard Road for a year.

A group of ardent traditional musicians, foremost among them Grover Sutton, approached Nelia about restarting the tradition. Nelia listened to the pleas for a continuation of the Music House tradition, and a year after the death of Wayne, the music returned to Music House. – See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/citizen-times/obituary.aspx?n=bertha-hyatt&pid=184147455&#sthash.UsCAeUiO.dpuf

About the Author

Jason Sandford
Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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