J.C. Owens Photos | Digital Traditions

Master fiddler J.C. Owens learned from the best musicians in the South Carolina Upstate, his brother, Lonnie Owens, and the legendary Pink Cassels. Owens is a master of various fiddling styles native to the Upstate, including bluegrass, old-time, and swing.

By age six, he had entered the music-playing arena by listening to his brother’s band to learn techniques. At twelve, he had become so accomplished that he was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. His mother declined the opportunity because she thought that he was too young to travel that distance.

By the 1960s, Owens was winning fiddle contests across South Carolina, including the state championship. By the 1970s, he had joined a bluegrass band, the Dixie Ramblers, and started a career as a studio musician for bluegrass and country bands. His studio work is included in more than 100 recordings.

In addition to his musical career, Owens served in the U.S. Navy and worked in the textile industry for many years. He has retired, which is a good thing for practitioners and enthusiasts of traditional music in the Upstate. Now, he joins local jam sessions and plays with his string band The Fiddler’s Three at festivals and other events. Through his involvement with folklife documentation efforts in the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor, Owens has joined efforts to foster familiarity with and interest in traditional culture in the Upstate.

He is proof that the traditional music styles of the Upstate remain vibrant today. The music, which is closely tied to family and community life, is the music that Owens has mastered through a lifetime of dedication. Owens passed away in March of 2014. Owens received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2000.