David Holt is a musician, storyteller, historian and television host as well as the long-time host of Riverwalk Jazz. Throughout his professional career, Holt has been devoted to performing and preserving traditional American music and stories. He plays ten acoustic instruments, has released numerous award-winning recordings of traditional mountain music and southern folktales, and has four Grammy Awards to his credit.
Holt is well known for his many television appearances. He is host of public television’s Folkways, a North Carolina program that travels the southern mountains visiting traditional craftsmen and musicians. David also hosts the PBS series Great Scenic Railway Journeys, and has served as host of The Nashville Network’s Fire on the Mountain, Celebration Express and American Music Shop series. He was a frequent guest on Nashville Now and The Grand Ole Opry. David can also be seen in the popular Coen brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
A native of Garland, Texas, Holt’s family moved to Pacific Palisades, California, while he was in junior high school. He recalls his early musical and storytelling influences: “I grew up in a family of informal storytellers, and there was plenty to tell about our wild and wooly Texas forefathers. Storytelling was just a natural part of family life for me. I never thought about telling stories in public until I began to collect mountain music and came across interesting and unusual anecdotes from mountain folks. I began to use these stories in concerts and realized the power storytelling holds.”
Since 1981, Holt has pursued a full-time career in entertainment. In 1975, Holt founded and directed the Appalachian Music Program at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina. It is the only program of its kind in which students study, collect and learn traditional music and dance.
Today, he brings to the concert stage the fun and spirit of old-time music and storytelling. An evening with David Holt offers tales, ballads and tunes told, sung and played on the banjo, slide guitar, guitar, harmonica, bones, spoons and jaw harp. His audiences are constantly involved, learning to play the paper bag, applauding the vitality of his clog dancing, listening to the haunting sound of a 122-year-old mountain banjo, or being spellbound by a ghost story.
In 2002, Doc Watson and David won two Grammy Awards for Best Traditional Folk Recording for Legacy, a three-CD collection of songs and stories reflecting Doc Watson’s inspiring life story. Doc and David toured together from 1998 until Doc’s death in 2012.
In 1989, Holt began work as the host of the then newly established public radio series, Riverwalk, Live From the Landing, now known as Riverwalk Jazz. Holt describes how this long-running collaboration started:
"People often ask how I got the job as host of Riverwalk Jazz since I don’t play jazz and am known as a country musician and storyteller. It happened that in 1989, producer Margaret Moos Pick, who had produced A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor, was looking for a host of Riverwalk Jazz that could tell a story, interview older musicians and not sound like Garrison…and I got the job!
"It has been a great education for me. The classic jazz era is the same historical time period that fascinates me with mountain music. Riverwalk Jazz covers the music that was being played in cities in the first half of the 20th Century. The golden age of old-time mountain music took place in the countryside in the same time period. Two great musics, rural and urban, running side by side."
Serving as the voice of Riverwalk Jazz for over two decades, David's appreciation of vintage jazz and its present-day players has grown: "There is no better band in America playing vintage jazz than The Jim Cullum Jazz Band, and it has been my privilege to hear their great music all these years. The greatest names in jazz have been guests on Riverwalk and it has been a thrill interviewing them and spending time together. To be able call artists like Clark Terry, Doc Cheatham, Dick Hyman, Milt Hinton and Topsy Chapman friends is an honor."
Producer Margaret Pick applauds David Holt’s contribution to the Riverwalk Jazz series. “David’s natural talents as a storyteller have made it possible for us to give voice to the complex and exciting story of jazz as it evolved in the first half of the 20th century. His ability to see the story, and then tell it convincingly, has allowed us to impart complicated narratives and illustrate them sonically with historical recordings of the music or voices of the era. And, he’s been able to make musicians remarkably at ease as he interviews them on stage. We’ve captured wonderful live moments with Lionel Hampton, Doc Cheatham, Bob Haggart, Sweets Edison, and many more. David has made a tremendous contribution to Riverwalk Jazz.”