August 30,1932 – February 26, 2013 Remembering Alvin Breeden


Remembering Alvin Breeden (August 30,1932 – February 26, 2013) was a friend and disciple of Don Reno, who kept the Reno style alive for many years after Don’s passing in 1984. The two became close when Don was living in central Virginia, where Alvin and his band, the Virginia Cutups, were based. His banjo playing was strong and aggressive, and he had the ability to play with astounding speed. So much so that he served as the inspiration for Fastest Grass Alive, a Paul Craft song made famous by The Osborne Brothers, “Fastest Grass Alive”. Don Wayne Reno, Don’s son and a first rate banjo picker himself, remembers the close relationship between Alvin and his father. “They always had a great time together and played a lot of twin banjos at festivals and such. It really hurt Alvin when Dad passed away. Alvin recorded a tribute album to Dad while he was still in the hospital in Charlottesville, VA. Dale and I had the privilege to play on it with Alvin. So that shows you what Alvin thought of Dad, and I know Dad felt the same way about him. There was never any competition between them; it was always respect. Alvin played a lot of Reno style banjo, but he played his own thing as well.”

At an early age, Breeden acquired a passion for bluegrass, which led to his mother teaching him the “claw hammer style” of banjo at the age of ten. By the time he was sixteen, he was playing professionally with Bob and Cindy Dean. It wasn’t long before he had a band of his own, The Virginia Cutups, which played for thirty years. He retired from performing in 2010, after 52 years in music. He and his band traveled the world playing their traditional bluegrass, and his influence on banjo pickers – especially Reno devotees – has been profound. He was entered into the Piedmont Fiddlers Association Hall of Fame in 2001.

He inspired and mentored so many people throughout his many years in music that his fan base spanned the globe from as far away as Sweden, Japan and England.

About the author

I enjoy researching Bluegrass, Bluegrass Gospel, and Country birthdays, anniversaries and interesting trivia dates. I am a piano/organ performance major who has taught privately and served as church accompanist since 1968 in North Carolina and Central Kentucky. Although classically trained, I appreciate all genres of music. My mother, who was also a church musician and taught public school music grades K-12, knew that Bluegrass music was the purest American music. She always introduced her students to this fine genre and began my musical studies with her at age 2. Bach to Berachah Valley, Mozart to Jimmy Martin, Sibelius to Stanley Brothers, the list goes on, I hope you find some moments of enjoyment and learn a few interesting facts along the way.
I am thankful for the many resources we have at our fingertips including Google. FaceBook and BluegrassBios by Wayne Rice. It was he who inspired me to tackle the task of trying to pass on knowledge about Bluegrass music. Thanks Wayne~!
Lou Ellen Wilkie

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