Sam Love Queen, Sr., born in 1888 in Soco Mountain part of Haywood County, NC, learned to dance and to call dances from his grandparents, father, and Bob Lowe, a local black caller. Queen incorporated fancier footwork known as Buck Dancing into his dances which helped to develop a style referred to as clogging, the most popular of mountain dances. In “From Our House to the White House”, a documentary film produced by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Albert Burnett, a square dance caller, described square dancing as “a body language and body expression”. Gertrude Plott Welch, a dance partner of Queen, said that he was “light on his feet…danced…on more or less the ball of his feet, just a very smooth dancer”. Another dance partner, Beulah Caldwell Elder said it was “like he was floating…so easy to dance with”. Without doubt, Queen knew how to share that language with the world resulting in him being commonly called “The Square Dance King”.
As his grandson, Joe Sam Queen, Jr. said, “He was a charismatic person…an entertainer who made his livelihood entertaining folks at the Moody Farm barn dances and in the hotels, motels and inns in the county”. Tourists visiting in the North Carolina Mountains usually stayed two or three weeks at a time. After attending one of the Queen barn dances at Moody Farm, they would learn steps and return to join in the dances. Sam Queen thus became known as one of the first tourist promoters.
At this same time, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, realizing the importance of sharing the mountain heritage of music and dance with others, talked the people of Asheville, NC into adding Mountain and Folk Festival to their annual Rhododendron Festival and invited the best musicians and dancers to form teams, dress in their Sunday best and compete in the dance contest. Queen, a natural competitor, put together a group calling themselves the Soco Gap Dance Team because most of the dancers lived there. They travelled to Asheville and lost to the Candler Dance Team. The Soco Dance Team, led by Queen, returned the following year to win.
In 1934, the middle of the great depression and six years after the first Asheville festival, teams from North Carolina traveled to St. Louis to participate in the first National Folk Festival with the Soco Dance Team winning the national title. Performances in Chattanooga, Chicago, Dallas, Pittsburgh, and New York City at Carnegie Hall, the Waldorf Astoria and the New York World’s Fair followed. Lynn Hadley, Lunsford’s daughter, said that the “Soco Dance Team danced as though they were as near heaven as they ever expected to be and loved it”. This was why everyone enjoyed watching them while they won more competitions than any other square dance team.
June 8, 1939, exactly ten years following their first performance at the Asheville festival and after Mrs. Roosevelt had seen them perform in Constitution Hall, they were invited to Washington, D. C. by President and Mrs. Roosevelt to perform in a program on Americana for the King and Queen of England. It was noted that the Soco Dance Team had left Haywood County as “celebrities and returned heroes”.
With the advent of World War II this chapter in the mountain dancing closed. The talents of Sam Love Queen, Sr. who passed away in 1969, is remembered today as he helped to “prove to the people in the region that there was something important, something worthwhile that could stand equal with other dance forms and take it to the White House with dignity”.