Jon Sundell: Folk Musician & Storyteller
By Judie Holcomb-Pack
Jon Sundell is a man on a mission to preserve traditional Appalachian and multi-cultural music and tales. As a 70-year-old man who is young at heart, Jon has spent over 40 years honing his talents as a professional folksinger, storyteller and square dance caller. He has performed throughout the United States and in parts of Europe and Latin America. Recently retired from his position as the media coordinator at Old Town Elementary School, Jon is expanding his performances at schools, churches, festivals, parties and events, sharing his love of storytelling and music with audiences of all ages.
Born in Long Island, New York, Jon was raised in an artistic and socially conscious family of second generation Jewish immigrants. His father was a professional painter and folk music fan, influencing young Jon to take up the guitar at the age of nine. Jon was raised with a spirit of curiosity and open mindedness. As part of the BA in English which he received from the University of Michigan in 1969, Jon minored in French, spending a year in Aix-en-Provence, France, and Asian Studies. He spent nearly all of 1970 living in Japan, where he taught himself basic Japanese and hitch-hiked through much of the country.
Jon moved to Knoxville, Tennessee in 1971 to come into closer contact with the Appalachian culture spawning the music he loved. Under a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, he organized festivals in mountain communities and presented workshops and concerts in nearby schools. While doing that, he studied part-time at the University of Tennessee, earning a master’s degree in Education with a focus on Appalachian studies.
Jon moved to Atlanta in 1977 to teach English, folklore and music at Paideia School, a progressive alternative school. Once each year he led students on a three-week folklore field trip. As the second year’s final project he and his students produced the book, Stay with Us: Visiting with Old Time Singers and Storytellers in the Southern Mountains, which can be viewed in the publications page of Jon’s website.
In 1984 Jon arrived in Winston-Salem to join the Forsyth County Public Library, where he worked for 22 years as a children’s librarian, children’s outreach coordinator, and director of Hispanic Services. On vacations, Jon often visited Mexico, Central and South America, learning about their cultures and social conditions and studying Spanish. Back home, he worked with several locally-based Hispanic artists to form the Hispanic Arts Initiative, offering Spanish language arts classes and presentations to enrich the cultural life of immigrants and the greater community.
After marrying Vivian Dominguez from Colombia, South America, and adopting her daughter Ana Maria, Jon left the public library in 2006 for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in the hopes of having more time for family. He served as a media coordinator for 10 years, finally retiring in 2016 from Old Town Elementary. Since then he has re-immersed himself in music, storytelling and square dance calling that he loves. Jon teaches lessons on guitar, 5-string banjo, autoharp, mountain dulcimer and ukulele at Jackson’s Music and at home. He finds time to perform at churches, schools, festivals, weddings, birthday parties and other events. He especially enjoys sharing the old songs and stories with seniors, for whom they often bring back vivid memories.
“Storytelling is universal,” Jon says. “Stories are part of every culture. They create an atmosphere that brings people together.”
Jon has spent his life bringing people of all ages and cultures together, using his musical and storytelling talents to spread peace, justice and friendship to our world.
For more information, go to JonSundell.com or contact him at email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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