Hollerin’ champ: Davie’s Kevin Jasper has winning sound

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
kchaffin@salisburypost.com
MOCKSVILLE ó When reigning National Hollerin’ Champion Kevin Jasper practices his Tarzan holler in the front yard of his Pudding Ridge home, an echo resounds from the woods across the road.
Sometimes, when his neighbor’s children are playing outside, the echo is immediately followed by impersonations from younger voices. Jasper says he hollers back, “Keep trying!”
His neighbors are used to hearing him practice. One even requests the Tarzan holler whenever he and his wife are sitting on their front porch.
As a four-time champion of the annual National Hollerin’ Contest, held every June in Spivey’s Corner, Jasper says he also practices while driving down the road. Singing loudly also helps keep his voice in shape.
Jasper, who just turned 54, appeared on “Late Show with David Letterman” in 2000 and 2004, on “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” in 2000 and on several area news stations through the years. He has also been on numerous radio shows, including “Murphy in the Morning” in Greensboro, “John Boy and Billy” in Charlotte, “The Bob and Sheri Show” and “All Things Considered” on National Public Radio.
The Hollerin’ Champion has been featured in numerous newspaper and regional magazine articles. When he was in New York to appear on Letterman and Regis and Kathy Lee in 2000, Jasper was surprised to see an article about the National Hollerin’ Contest on the back page of The Village Voice.
His hollerin’ talent even landed Jasper a role in “Junebug,” a 2005 movie filmed in North Carolina. In fact, the movie opens with a close-up of him performing what he describes as a “Gettin’ Up Holler.”
Jasper returns in the third scene hollerin’ to the melody of the hymn, “Softly and Tenderly.” He was paid several hundred dollars, much more than he expected, for the movie and has since received three royalty checks. When “Junebug” premiered in Winston-Salem, Jasper got to meet the film’s actors, including Amy Adams, who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her role.
“She was really nice,” he says.
Also hollerin’ in the second scene of the movie was former champion Dan McLamb, who got Jasper interested in the national contest when he appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in the 70s with his three-legged dog, Percy.
McLamb was demonstrating his skills as the then-reigning National Hollerin’ Champion, he says, when Percy started hollerin’ along with him. “It was one of the few animal acts on Johnny Carson that actually worked,” Jasper says.
He remembers thinking that McLamb was getting to meet Carson and that he might want to look into the hollerin’ competition.
“I had it in the back of my mind,” he says, “and I thought about it for years and years.” It wasn’t until 1997 that Jasper says he decided, “Enough is enough … I m going to go find out what it’s all about.”
He asked a reference librarian in Burlington, where he was living at the time, about the National Hollerin’ Contest, and she gave him the name of Ermon Godwin Jr., co-founder of the competition.
Jasper found his number on the Internet and called him. Godwin recommended that he buy the CD, “Hollerin,’ ” which features the 1969-1975 winners of the National Hollerin’ Contest.
The Spivey’s Corner Volunteer Fire Department started the competition in 1969 as a fundraiser because the folk art of hollerin’ was dying.
“People weren’t using hollerin’ to communicate anymore,” Jasper says, “and they were losing the vocal techniques.”
The first contest attracted a crowd of about 5,000 and national attention when Charles Kuralt reported on it. Dignitaries such as the late N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Jim Graham of Rowan County helped judge through the years.
Jasper started listening to the “Hollerin’ ” CD and learned some of the simpler hollers ó enough to enter the contest in 1998 ó but hadn’t yet mastered the yodeling technique. He didn’t win, but continued practicing and entered again in 1999.
“By 2000, I was able to get real close to the great hollerers with the hollers that they did just for fun,” he says. That year, Jasper claimed his first championship and again in 2004, 2007 and 2009.
Because of a new rule forbidding the reigning champion from entering the following year, he couldn’t compete in the 2005 contest, but was asked to serve as a judge. That was the only year that Jasper didn’t enter.
In addition to winning four championships, he was the first runnerup for six years.
“I usually concentrate on the expressive hollers,” he says of the competition. “Those are the ones done just for fun.”
The last two or three years, Jasper says he has started the contest with a “gettin’ up” holler. “Before I even get to the microphone, I do a gettin’ up holler that’s more of a communication holler,” he says.
“The old-timers would have their trademark holler, and so you would know which neighbor was hollerin’ at you early in the morning to let you know that they were up and doing OK.
“Through the years, hollerin’ has become a means of expression for Jasper. When his father died in 2000, he asked his mother if he could do a holler as part of his father’s funeral in Louisville, Ky. She said no, but returned with him to Cave Hill Cemetery later in the day so he could holler Floyd Lee’s “Old-timey Holler” as a tribute to his father.
“I did it sort of as a lamentation,” he says, repeating the heart-wrenching holler.
After earning bachelor’s degrees from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and N.C. State University, Jasper worked for Hewlett-Packard in California for three years, then returned to his hometown of Louisville and entered seminary.
After graduation, he was ordained as a Baptist minister, preaching part time at a church in Batesville, Va. for five years while doing contract computer work. After that, he served as full-time pastor at a church in Lake Waccamaw for a year, leaving there to work in computers for Burlington Laboratory Corporation of America and Wake Forest University.
It was at Wake Forest that Jasper met his wife, Joanna, who is now the chief information officer at Catawba College. She has a daughter named Grace, and he has two sons, Micah and Nathan, and a daughter, Bethany, from his first marriage.
Jasper is presently working on a master’s in the counseling program at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte and hopes to eventually become ordained as a Methodist minister.
An advocate of preserving the folk art of hollerin’, Jasper is available to talk to civic groups and other organizations about its history and to demonstrate his techniques. He appeared at a 2004 community forum at Catawba College.
Jasper plans to continue competing in the National Hollerin’ Contest.
“What I need to do, what I’ve been planning to do for the last couple of years,” he says, “is work up a totally new, never-before-heard holler that will take those techniques and update them for the present time … I’ve got some things in mind, but I’m not going to tell you because they’re a trade secret.
“Some of my competitors might read this article, and we can’t have that,” he says, laughing.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.

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