Leonard Joe Hollifield, age 91, well-known local musician and former member of the Stoney Creek Boys, passed away early Saturday morning at his home in Weaverville.
He is survived by his daughter, Amy, of Asheville and his son, Leonard (Lynn), of Fletcher and one brother, Zane (Judy) of Travelers Rest, SC. His wife, Melba, passed away in 2000. He was born August 3, 1926 in Buncombe County to the late Jim and Bertha Hollifield. He was preceded in death by his siblings, Lawrence, Richard, Kenneth, and Margaret.
Leonard proudly served in the US Navy, beginning at the age of 17 during WW II. He was stationed on board the USS Caney (a “fast tanker” that operated in combat zones) in the Pacific Theatre, and was attached to Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey’s Fast Carrier Task Force 38. This task force conducted the Solomon Islands and Guadalcanal campaigns in the South Pacific, to include the battle of Okinawa.
He returned from the war to play semi-pro baseball for 3 years in the Western North Carolina Industrial League as a short-stop and third baseman. Also after the war, he played bluegrass guitar in a group with his brother Kenneth. They played local dances and concerts and performed on local radio stations WISE and WWNC. During this time he and his brother also played on station WNOX in Knoxville on the Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round program, an important country music station at that time. They played concerts with Red Smiley and Don Reno, along with the Morris Brothers, well-known country music bands.
He decided to not pursue music for a living at that time and attended brick masonry school in the late 1940’s. He worked as a master mason and construction project foreman for over 20 years. During that time, he continued to play guitar with area bluegrass and gospel groups on a part-time basis. Around 1960, Leonard began traveling, playing, and cutting albums part time with the Kingsmen Gospel Music Quartet; and the group gradually went from playing only weekend engagements to performing at major concerts and church services full-time. The group had a weekly television show filmed every Wednesday at the WFBC studios in Greenville, SC, and their scheduled concerts were from Thursday night through Sunday evening every week, with major concert and large church venues throughout the entire Southeast and into the Northeast. He played guitar with the Kingsmen Quartet on a full-time basis which continued until around 1970.
Funded by a special 2 year Federal grant project, Leonard taught brick masonry and general construction techniques at AB Tech for 2 years. This was a special project to provide unemployed adults with a trade education that would allow them to obtain employment as trained masons at the end of the 2 year training. It was very successful and he was employed to teach similar classes at Asheville High School. He taught at Asheville High School for 7 years and then taught the same program at West Henderson High School for 7 years, where he retired from his teaching career at age 65.
Leonard began playing with the Stoney Creek Boys in 1975. For the summer season each year, this band played every week for the Pisgah View Ranch, the square dances at Montreat College and served as the house band for the Shindig on the Green. He continued to play with them for 39 years, when he made the decision to cut back from performing with the group at the age of 87. At the end of his musical career, he received multiple awards, to include the Bascom Lamar Lunsford artist of the year award. In his 80’s, he cut three CDs on bluegrass music.
Visitation will be held at West Funeral Home, 17 Merrimon Ave., Weaverville, from 5:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6.
A tribute to his life of music will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 7, at the First Presbyterian Church Weaverville, 30 Alabama Ave., Weaverville, NC 28787.
Flowers are appreciated or donations can be made to the Madison County Arts Council (MCAC) for the Junior Appalachian Musicians, Leonard Hollifield Scholarship Fund, 152 North Main Street, Marshall, NC 28753. This is an afterschool program for students to learn traditional music and dance.
Burial will be in West Memorial Park, Weaverville.
For those who desire, condolences may be offered to the family under Mr. Hollifield’s obituary at www.WestFamilyFuneralServices.com.