Morgan Sexton was 77 years old when he made his first public appearance as a banjo player, performing in 1988 at the Appalachian music festival Seedtime on the Cumberland. Born in southeastern Kentucky in 1911, Sexton grew up in a musical family and learned to play the banjo as a child. Working for much of his life as a coal miner, he returned in his later years to his music, playing for community gatherings before gaining wider exposure. Following his 1988 debut, Sexton received almost immediate national attention and commenced a remarkable if brief career, performing at festivals, teaching banjo workshops, and recording a small body of traditional ballads and tunes. In 1989, Sexton's first recording, Rock Dust, appeared on the June Appal label; in 1991, the National Endowment for the Arts presented Sexton with a National Heritage Fellowship in recognition of his contributions to regional traditions. Following his death later that year, June Appal released another album of songs which Sexton had recorded since his discovery; that release, entitled Shady Grove, included several tracks from Rock Dust in addition to previously unissued material.
Morgan Sexton's music, though deeply expressive of local Appalachian traditions, tends to defy strict classification, stereotype, or even notation. Sexton played in a variety of tunings, typically employing a highly personalized two-finger picking style. His voice itself functioned as the oldest and most emotive of instruments, fashioning meaning less through the lyrics of a song than through the archaic and soulful delivery of often unintelligible words. Sexton's banjo and voice complemented each other masterfully, the banjo providing the gently percussive foundation for each piece and the unpredictable, other-worldly vocals elaborating beautifully on the song's musical and emotional themes. Morgan Sexton died of cancer on January 30th, 1992, two days over 81 years old. ~ Burgin Mathews, Rovi