For decades, Wayne County native and Somerset resident Leonard Rutherford was known as one of the most popular Bluegrass musicians in the U.S.
But sadly, after his death in 1951, Rutherford slipped into obscurity when he was buried in a simple, unmarked grave in Somerset.
But on March 22, his 116th birthday, Rutherford will soon be receiving the recognition he’s long deserved, thanks to the efforts of a Wayne County-based historian and a local cemetery manager.
“He (Rutherford) has been forgotten for 63 years, and that's way too long,” said Tricia Neal, manager of the Somerset Cemetery, where Rutherford’s grave is located. “Everyone should be remembered, and this grave marker will allow future generations to learn his story all over again.”
Neal and Harlan Ogle, of the Wayne County Historical Museum, have combined their efforts to honor Rutherford, a member of the Burnett-Rutherford Duo, who traveled the southeastern U.S. in their hey-day and became widely popular recording artists in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.
Neal said the search for Rutherford’s grave, which had long been forgotten, began after Ogle approached her with Rutherford’s story. Ogle, who will soon release a short book, called “Leonard Rutherford — One of the Smoothest Fiddlers Ever to Take a Bow,” was researching the Burnett-Rutherford Duo, which included musician and Wayne County native Dick Burnett.
“Initially, I couldn't find any information about his burial,” Neal said. “After quite a bit of digging, I finally found him. His name was written in faded pencil on the back of an old index card.”
Neal was able to pinpoint Rutherford’s grave with the help of the scant information that existed about his burial, but she said she discovered that his grave was unmarked.
“Without that faded writing on the back of that old card, I probably would have never been able to find any proof that he had ever been buried in this cemetery, much less find exactly where he was located,” said Neal.