Four-time Grammy Award-winning folk musician David Holt is a born troubadour. Behind his energizing musicianship (often featuring unusual instruments like "the paper bag") is a deep love of hidden Appalachian wisdom and storytelling that shines on every stage he takes.

Why you should listen

As a youngster, David Holt knew he wanted to master the banjo. His quest to that end brought him into the tucked-away communities of the remote Appalachian Mountains, where traditional folk music is still ingrained in the way of life. In his years there, he met some too-enchanting-to-be-true characters and a few local living legends (Wade Mainer, Dellie Norton) -- complete with anecdotes from older and harder times. He also picked up some unusual musical skills beyond the banjo: he's now a virtuoso of the mouth bow, the bottleneck slide guitar and the paper bag.

Holt has won four Grammys and has starred in several radio and television programs, such as Folkways, which visits regional craftsmen and musicians. (He also performed in the 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?.) He currently tours the country doing solo performances, and accompanied by his band The Lightning Bolts.

What others say

“The best minstrel-storyteller is David Holt.” — Vogue

David Holt’s TED talk

David Holt on the TED Blog


Playing mountain music: David Holt on

December 8, 2008

Folk musician and storyteller David Holt plays the banjo and shares photographs and old wisdom from the Appalachian Mountains. He also demonstrates some unusual instruments like the mouth bow — and a surprising electric drum kit he calls “thunderwear.” (Recorded March 2004 in Monterey, California. Duration: 25:31.) Watch David Holt’s talk on, where you […]

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Quotes from David Holt

It was like a library, just full of vacuum tubes as far as you could see, just floors and floors of these things, and one of the engineers said, some day you’re going to be able to put this thing in your pocket. I thought, damn, those are going to be some big pants!
David Holt
TED2004 • 411K views Dec 2008
Beautiful, Inspiring
The old timers didn’t take a fancy guitar string and make anything like this [mouth bow]. They would just take a stick and a catgut and string it up. It was hard on the cats, but it made a great little instrument.
David Holt
TED2004 • 411K views Dec 2008
Beautiful, Inspiring