Junior Appalachian Musicians – JAM Program

Johnson County, Tennessee

Johnson County, Tennessee’s northeastern-most county, shares borders with Virginia and North Carolina. Johnson County brings together the three states’ unique Appalachian Mountain musical heritages. It is here in the communities of Mountain City, Laurel Bloomery, Butler and Trade where families have played Appalachian mountain music for centuries. Johnson County residents take great pride in their cultural heritage. The Johnson County Old Time Fiddlers Convention in Laurel Bloomery is the oldest running fiddlers’ convention on record and the county is home to many other mountain music and bluegrass performances.  

In 2016, county leaders built upon this important cultural asset and began the Johnson County Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) Program.  As the second JAM Program (add link https://jamkids.org/) in Tennessee, the program had an eager response of 150 children sign up to participate. The program was able to take half of those children and offer lessons in fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin and stringboard as well as an enrichment program where the students learn about other aspects of Appalachian culture.

Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter and County Commission Chairman Mike Taylor saw the opportunity to use the county’s ThreeStar grant funding to purchase additional musical instruments and help absorb tuition costs to serve students on the waiting list. This investment supported the county’s top priority of creating more meaningful programs for youth to develop their talents and succeed in school. It also aligned with the workforce development pillar of the ThreeStar Program. JAM program leaders believe that children who are actively engaged in traditional mountain music are more connected to their communities and better prepared to strengthen their communities for future generations.

Through the efforts of 11 musician instructors, 2 program staff and 8 community advisory board members, Johnson County JAM is now the largest Junior Appalachian Musicians program in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. Sessions are held weekly in Mountain City and are open to kids in grades 4-12 in the county schools as well as homeschooled families. A low weekly tuition of $5 helps to pay for small group lessons, a snack and enrichment classes including guest artists, musicians, storytellers and dancers. In 2017, JAM enrollment was up to 110 children. Many more will be able to participate in future JAM programming through the leadership support of the community, TNECD and other partners.

Community Impact

Performing at community events is an important part of the JAM program. Since its inception in 2016, Johnson County JAM has held 28 community performances, providing positive community service and youth development opportunities. Seventy students participated in Johnson County JAM in its first year; 110 participated in the second year of the program.

In the summer of 2017, JAM partnered with the local Farmers’ Market to provide entertainment during weekly markets. JAM also participated in other regular performances at Mountain City Heritage Hall, school events, the local country store and the Long Journey Home festival. Johnson County JAM encourages and promotes community service through music performances at local nursing homes and health care facilities. Johnson County JAM also performs at local fundraising events. Students performed at a new lawn chair concert series that raises funds for community organizations. JAM played at a local school to raise funds to start a community center.

JAM program results include:   

Total Students Served 150
Total Community Leaders Engaged 21
Total Community Performances 28
Total Music Lessons 1,800
Total Music Lesson Scholarships 350
Total Community Organizations Served 13

Student Benefits

In order to measure JAM’s impact, an incentive program has been set up that will award points for practice time at home, performance in the community, class attendance and improved grades. At the end of the year, the top point earners will receive new instruments or scholarships for music lessons. Other important measures of JAM student participation include:

  • Improved grades and test scores
  • Lowered number of destructive behaviors
  • Improved time management
  • Learned marketable skills
  • Increased appreciation of Appalachian cultural heritage


Program Funding

$16,700 ($10,000 Dan Paul Foundation lead gift for instruments, staffing, tuition; $5,200 Johnson County Foundation/East Tennessee Foundation arts grant for enrichment program, instructors, arts supplies; $1,500 Wayne Henderson Foundation for scholarships)
TNECD ThreeStar Grant 
$25,000 (additional instruments and student tuition)    
United Methodist Church of Mountain City     
Facility at no cost
Private fundraising and private donations 
$28,000 (2017 Jamboree Festival and Silent Auction $13,000, others)
$7,300 (students, sponsors)
Total: $77,000

Program Leadership and Partners

Johnson County JAM – Junior Appalachian Musicians - Program Contact
Johnson County Community Foundation, an Affiliate of the East Tennessee Foundation
First United Methodist Church of Mountain City
Johnson County Mayor’s Office / ThreeStar Economic and Community Development Program
Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development ThreeStar Program
Junior Appalachian Musicians JAM ™ Program   
Johnson County Arts Council

For more project information visit the Johnson County JAM website at https://jamkids.org/johnson/


TNECD ThreeStar Program

The ThreeStar Program is designed to focus on the Governor’s five pillars of Community Development: Jobs & Economic Development, Fiscal Strength & Efficient Government, Public Safety, Education & Workforce Development and Health & Welfare. ThreeStar grants help communities increase the impact of a successful project focused on the five pillars and are supported by the Governor’s Rural Task Force and Tennessee Rural Economic Opportunity Act of 2016 and 2017.

For more information visit the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development - Community and Rural Development.