Bobby Horton, who tells stories and sing songs from the Civil War, grew up in an era when war stories were everywhere.
“I’m 64,” he said, speaking by phone recently from his home in Birmingham, Ala. “When I was a kid, my dad, all his brothers, all my mother’s brothers, baseball and football coaches, grammar school band director — they were all World War II veterans. So I grew up hearing war stories and asking people about it, and watching every movie about World War II.”
Civil War stories were also in the air during Horton’s early teens, as the nation marked the centennial of the war that pitted North against South and finally ended slavery in the United States. His fascination with the period has never abated, and he will bring it back to life on March 26 at Revolution Mill in a concert presented by Triad Acoustic Stage.
“I go through the war chronologically,” Horton said. “You can feel it, you can hear it, you can sense it.”
“Blue and Gray” magazine calls him the “premier artist of Civil War music.” Horton’s love of music and history first came together in 1984, when he was tapped to create the soundtrack for a low-budget Civil War-era movie, “Shadow Waltz” — later renamed “Rebel Love” by distributors trying to boost ticket sales.
He also put out a series of albums of Civil War-era music with titles such as “Homespun Songs of the CSA,” “Homespun Songs of the Union Army,” and “Homespun Songs of Vicksburg.”
Civil War soldiers, Horton said, “used music for everything. For propaganda. They used it to create a martial feeling, a feeling of patriotism. They used it to celebrate people they admired, and they used it to talk about how stupid the enemy was. They used it to tell their story. A lot of soldiers wrote tunes.”
Eventually, his work attracted the attention of documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. He tapped Horton to contribute music to the soundtrack for his PBS series “The Civil War,” which became a runaway hit in 1990.
“The editor of ‘American Heritage’ said, ‘Ken, there’s a guy in Alabama you need to talk to,’ ” Horton said.
Since then, Horton has gone on to create music for several other Burns series, along with shows for the History Channel and A&E.
“If you want to understand and get a feel for Johnny Reb and Billy Yank, you can read a dozen books or spend an hour listening to Bobby Horton,” said veteran Civil War author and historian William C. Davis, who works on A&E’s “Civil War Journal.”
Horton also scores documentaries shown in National Park Service visitors’ centers, from Civil War battlefields such as Shiloh and Stones River to natural areas such as the Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone and Assateague Island.
He comes from a long line of musicians. His grandfather played banjo and taught Horton his first song.
“He said, ‘Your great-great-granddady played this song in the Civil War,’ ” Horton said. His father played trumpet before a mouth injury in World War II forced him to lay down his horn.
His first exposure to playing music came in elementary school, and he started a Dixieland band in seventh grade. He made a living playing contemporary music before landing on his current path. He also performs in a musical comedy trio called Three on a String.
Horton plays a number of instruments, including guitar, banjo and fiddle. He plans to bring a variety to his Greensboro show as he works to bring a lost-lost era back to life.
“We always pass things down through music,” he said. “This is who we are, this is what we believe, this is our history.”
Contact Eddie Huffman at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @eddiehuffman on Twitter.