JD Benson Photos | Digital Traditions

Deacon J. D. "Harmonica Man" Benson, from the Oconee County town of Seneca, was one of the few traditional mouth harp players remaining in South Carolina who could successfully weave together such imitative elements to create a spellbinding narrative.

Harmonica or “mouth harp” playing is a talent that at one time was widespread throughout America. Besides creating music, the skilled “harp” player could evoke splendid images of rural life, using the harmonica to imitate a variety of sounds to accompany narrative and song. Traditional virtuoso harp pieces such as the “Fox Hunt,” with its vocalized sounds of yelping dogs, make full use of the player’s imitative skills.

Benson also composed hymns and inspirational songs, and performed these along with traditional religious songs on his harmonica, moving between sung verse and played chorus. Benson passed away in 2006. He received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 1991.