History’s music man

Zach Lemhouse is not only a talented musician, but he’s also a teacher of history, who’s bringing alive stories of SC’s past through music.

Lemhouse uses his violin to help tell South Carolina’s past

Zach Lemhouse often plays his violin for visitors to Historic Brattonsville, an 800-acre living history site in McConnells, S.C. Photo by Nathan Bingle.

When Zach Lemhouse weaves his bow across the taut strings of his violin, it’s more than just the notes of a by-gone era that fills the space. Within the rhythm is the music, history and a love of learning that’s formed the composition of his life.

When Lemhouse plays for visitors at Historic Brattonsville, an 800-acre living history site in McConnells, S.C., he’s hoping his passion for history and music translates in the songs you would have heard in the Carolina Piedmont in the 18th and 19th centuries.

“It’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been,” says Lemhouse, who is the staff historian for four museums in York County (S.C.).

The son of two teachers in the Clover (S.C.) public school district, family vacations were always at historic sites across the state. That fostered the interest in our past and he would follow in his father’s footsteps, teaching history to middle school students for five years soon after his graduation from Winthrop University. 

Musically, the 31-year-old Lemhouse started taking violin lessons when he was 7 after seeing a fiddle player in an “old-time band” perform traditional gospel tunes at a Sunday camp meeting at his church. 

“I saw it and fell in love with it,”says Lemhouse, who learned by playing classical and, about 20 years ago, he included old-time tradition, as well as Scottish and Irish folk songs that he’ll play at Brattonsville alongside his mentor, Nash Lyle. He embraces the traditional music and teaches those skills at the Jink and Diddle School of Scottish Fiddle held each year in the North Carolina mountains.

“I’m an educator,” he says. “I may not be in the classroom any more, but I’m a teacher. To effectively transfer knowledge from one person to another. That’s what I did in the classroom and, absolutely, that’s what I’m doing at Brattonsville.”


Getting to know Zach Lemhouse

AGE: 31. He was born June 26, 1990.

CLAIM TO FAME: He’s the staff historian for the Culture and Heritage Museums of York County (S.C.) and director of the Southern Revolutionary War Institute, a research library dedicated to the study of the oft-forgotten Southern campaigns of the American Revolution.

HOMETOWN: York, S.C.

IS IT A FIDDLE OR VIOLIN?: The funny answer? “A violin has strings; a fiddle has strangs,” Lemhouse says. “Or a fiddle has a red neck.” Seriously? “There’s no difference.”

WHAT’S ON HIS BOOKSHELF?: Stuck between the studies on the American Revolution, theories of educational thinkers and scores of sheet music, you’ll find several comic books. “I’m more of a DC fan than a Marvel fan. Especially Batman.”

Where to hear his music:

In addition to his work at Historic Brattonsville, Lemhouse is also a member of three Bluegrass bands – the legendary WBT Briarhoppers, established in 1934 and inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2020, the Whippoorwill String Band and the Cottonwood Bluegrass Band — where his set list expands to include favorites like the “Orange Blossom Special” and “Ragtime Annie.”

Zach Lemhouse plays “Ashokan Farewell” on a custom Lehmhaus cigar box fiddle.

As staff historian for the Culture & Heritage Museums, Lemhouse’s interviews with top bluegrass and Americana bands will be featured in this year’s Southern Sound Radio concerts, live performances recorded at the McCelvey Center in York and broadcast every Saturday in November from 8 to 10 p.m. on all S.C. Public Radio stations.

The 2022 lineup includes performances by Della Mae (Nov. 5), Chatham County Line (Nov. 12), Ruthie Foster (Nov. 19) and Steep Canyon Rangers (Nov. 26). In the interviews, band members reflect on the evolving nature of traditional music and discuss historical crossovers of genres that encompass the roots music of the Carolina Piedmont. 

Find your South Carolina Public Radio station and livestream details at southcarolinapublicradio.org. The full interviews are also available on the Culture & Heritage Museum’s YouTube page


Editor’s Note: version of this SC Stories profile was featured in the November/December 2022 issue of South Carolina Living, a magazine that is distributed 11 times a year to more than 1 million South Carolinians by The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina.

Author: Michael Banks

I'm a freelance writer and editor currently at work on completing the first draft of my first novel. I'm also an award-winning journalist with over 30 years spent at newspapers in Kentucky, North Carolina and Mississippi.

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