While working as a school guidance counselor in North Carolina, Helen White saw possibility in the intersection of two issues – first, that young people weren’t learning about the rich Appalachian music heritage of their region, and second, that poverty and the challenges they faced made it hard for those students to have hope. With these issues in mind, Helen started Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM), an after-school program that introduces students to traditional old-time and bluegrass music, instruments (fiddle, banjo, guitar, and mandolin), and dance.
From that small start, Helen’s vision grew, and today there are over 50 schools across North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia with JAM programs, and countless students have thrived while taking part and found pride in their music and communities. After Helen’s passing, two scholarships were set up in her memory to provide high-quality instruments to JAM students and financial support to students who want to continue their education in traditional music or Appalachian Studies after high school.
A highly skilled fiddler, Helen also played at festivals, toured with her partner Wayne Henderson, composed music for theater and video productions, and created original songs for children.