Ben Cockman sings and plays guitar and mandolin because he believes that God gave him this talent to glorify Him.
Ben’s three brothers, sister, and his father, sing and play for the same reason.
“Honestly, one of the reasons I play — growing up in church — that was what pushed and motivated me to play,” Ben said. “People heard us and asked us to play. We didn’t plan this. It grew on its own.”
The Cockmans’ unique bluegrass gospel style garnered much recognition in Catawba County, statewide and nationally. Audiences love their harmonies, original songs and original arrangements of the old gospel songs.
The Cockman Family performs as a family, and fans love their family-style entertainment.
And, the family continues to grow.
“There are nine grandchildren — four boys and five girls, 3-12,” Ben said. “They’re starting to play.
Ben was eight when he started to play on the mandolin. He picked up guitar when he was 13. At 31, Ben is the youngest of the siblings. And, of course, they all still play.
“We probably play 100 times a year — every weekend during the summer, and sometimes several times a weekend,” Ben said.
Any time the family gets together is an occasion to jam, and they wouldn’t think of not jamming some bluegrass. And that includes when they’re not jamming weekly, which is routine.
It’s simple, really.
“We just love it,” Ben said. “We really love to sing and play bluegrass gospel.”
Ben met his wife, Melissa, five years ago, and they married.
“She plays the mandolin a little bit,” he said. “Melissa is from Kentucky. We met in West Virginia, I followed her to Kentucky and brought her back to Sherrills Ford.”
Ben writes the arrangements for the family and named a few influences.
“Of course Doc Watson,” he said. “And Chet Atkins.”
It’s a good fit — Ben won the 2012 Doc Watson Flatpick Guitar Championship at Merlefest.
For the past two years, he placed fifth. His recent wins also include the 2012 South Carolina State Flatpick Guitar Championship, and the 2012 West Virginia Flatpick Guitar Championship.
Just to set the record straight, Ben said he plays flatpickin’ on acoustic guitar, not “electrified.”
“A flatpick guitar is used, along with a flatpick. No fingers,” he said. “It’s kinda of like Doc Watson tunes.”
“I play fiddle tunes from Appalachia, and I’m real traditional about it,” he said.
Ben played two rounds at Merlefest — the first round he played “Blackberry Blossom” and Monroe’s Hornpipe.”
“Danny Boy” is very slow. The slow-style Ben uses throws a lot of chords in.
“That caught the judges ear,” Ben said. “Gershwin, on the other hand, is really fast, with a lot of fast notes coming at you. In bluegrass, Tony Rice, one of the most famous flatpickers, is a big influence.”
Judging is blind-sided — contestants and judges don’t see each other, nor do the judges know the name of the contestant when they play.
For the competition during MerleFest, Ben and other contestants played on a smaller stage. After he won, that evening Ben and the banjo winner went on the N.C. Stage — in front of 8,000 fans.
“I was more nervous playing for two or three people than I was in front of 8,000,” Ben laughed.
The next competition is in Winfield, Kansas, at the Walnut Valley Music Festival.
“My brother Billy won the S.C. State Banjo Competition and the N.C. State Banjo Competition, so we’ll go out together.”
There’ll be no waiting in line for the Cockman brothers. By virtue of their state championships, there is no waiting in line, and they’re guaranteed a spot. The number of contestants is kept small.”
“They cut if off at 20,” Ben said. “They want it very natural.”
Bluegrass folks are real traditional, Ben said, no electric instruments. The roots go back to Italy for the mandolin and fiddle, and Africa for the banjo.
“The Appalachia music, with fiddles, guitars and banjos, plays tunes that are more than 100 year olds, and some of tradition includes Celtic music,” Ben said. “It’s good to see and hear it.”
This is the influence the Cockman children grew with in the music festivals, the parking lot jamming and playing in the old barn at Fiddler’s Grove.
“It’s just playing with other musicians and regular old times, tunes that are passed down from generation to generation,” Ben said. “Old tunes not found in Barnes and Noble.”
In addition to the many appearances Ben makes with his family, he teaches private lessons — guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and bass — 60 students, 6 to 76 years old.
“I really do love teaching — it’s really rewarding, especially when I listen to them practice,” Ben said.
Ben, well, he said a lot of it’s luck, and he guesses he been lucky.
Meet the Cockman Family
• Awarded the Innovative Artist Grant by The United Arts Council to host a 2013 bluegrass festival in Catawba County.
• Selected as the recipient of the 2011 Community Traditions Award by the North Carolina Folk Society.
• Awarded the 2011 Bluegrass Gospel Group of the Year by Southern Branch Bluegrass.
• Caroline Cockman Fisher was awarded the 2011 Bluegrass Gospel Songwriter of the Year by My Bluegrass Gospel.
• The Butterpats were awarded the 2011 WMA Harmony Yodeling Duo of the Year and the 2011 WMA Youth Harmony award at the Western Music Association Showcase and Awards Show in Albuquerque, N.M.
• The Cockman Family is featured in an hour-long PBS television program entitled “Maker of the Stars: A Cockman Family Christmas.” The special is shown on American Public Television. They are also known in North Carolina as cast members on a series of seven, one-hour PBS television specials, “The Arthur Smith Show, Now & Then.” They also appeared on “George Beverly Shea and Friends,” also produced by PBS.
• Nominated for Bluegrass Artists of the Year, Instrumentalist of the Year and Bluegrass Band of the Year by the Country Gospel Music Association (CGMA), and for Gold Cross Bluegrass Group of the Year by the International Country Gospel Music Association.
• Selected as one of “The 12 Most Creative Families In America” by American Greetings Cards and USA Today Weekend.
• The Cockman Family is listed in the North Carolina Arts Council for North Carolina Touring and Resident Artist Directory, and were awarded the North Carolina Folk Society Community Traditions Award.
David is the bass fiddler and sings baritone for the group. He helps with the emcee work and provides lots of humor for live performances. David is most known for his smile as he always seems to light up the stage. He is married to Jessie Vallier, from Omaha, Neb. She works from home as the administrator for Fiddlers Grove Ole Time & Bluegrass Fiddlers Festival. They have two sons, Joseph and Noah, and a daughter named Sophia Bella. David has degrees in furniture manufacturing and furniture design, and works as a manager for Lee Industries.
Billy sings lead and tenor and plays the banjo and guitar for the group. He also writes for the family. Billy is married to Jamie Cockman. They have a son, Jeremiah, and a daughter Emma. Billy teaches banjo, won the 2009 North Carolina State Banjo Championship hosted by Jens Kruger at the Carolina in the Fall festival, and also the 2010 South Carolina State Banjo Championship at Renofest in Hartsville. Billy has degrees in furniture manufacturing and furniture design, and is also a licensed contractor.
John Cockman Jr.
John Jr. sings bass and plays the fiddle in the group. His unique style of vocal arrangement has helped to strengthen the Cockman Family’s sound. John is a professor and director of laboratories in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Appalachian State University He is married to Jennifer Cockman, and they are the proud parents of Arwen and Lorien (otherwise known as The Butterpats.
Caroline isthe lead singer for the group. She also shares harmony parts with her brothers. Daddy calls her the “little rose among the thorns.” She is an avid song writer with a great ear for a melody. Caroline was voted “Female Vocalist of the Year” by Powergrass Internet Radio. Caroline is married to Kelly Fisher, and she stays at home taking care of Samuel and Lydia Jane.
John Cockman Sr.
John Sr. is the father and the guitar player of the Cockman Family. He is married to Jane, and they reside in Sherrills Ford. His responsibilities include radio and television promotions, as well as scheduling and advertising. He is also in charge of all the emcee work for the group. John Sr. recently retired from teaching cabinet making in public schools and is also an experienced guitar builder. He was selected as the 1998-99 Maiden High School Teacher of the year, and is currently teaching at North Iredell High School.
Ben is the youngest member of the Cockman Family. At 6-foot-7, he is also the tallest. Ben sings lead and baritone for the group and plays the mandolin and guitar. Ben is good at instrumental arrangements and has a hand in producing all of the songs we play.
Ben is multi-talented and can play almost any instrument he puts his hands on. His special style of picking adds versatility and depth to the instrumentation. He is a professional music teacher, teaching mandolin, guitar, fiddle, banjo and resophonic guitar.
Ben plays a Murph Mandolin, given to him by David Murph, a Gerald Anderson guitar that he won in the 2012 South Carolina State Guitar Championship, a Boucher guitar that he won in the 2012 Doc Watson Flatpick Guitar Championship, and a Southern guitar that he won in the 2012 West Virginia Flatpick Guitar Championship. Ben's wife Melissa is a professional photographer.
For lessons, contact Ben at 828-320-3378