Program 1

Program 1: An Introduction to a Musical Appalachia (CS 101)

Description: In this hour we explore the History, Myth, and Export of Appalachian Music.


track listing: 1) Theme song ‘Sail Away Lady’ played by Carl Johnson 2) “Rose Connelly” [also known as Down In The Willow Garden] played by Roscoe Holcomb 3) “He Whispers Sweet Peace To Me” performed by The Old Regular Baptist Choir)

Intro: Sitting in the back of the Basement of Hutchins Library in Madison County Kentucky is the Berea College Sound Archives, home to 20,000 hours of non-commercial  and field recordings of Appalachian music.  In the back office is where I work archiving these recordings.  And this is where we will explore the world of Appalachian music and discover many recordings that may have only ever before been heard by a hand full of people.
This is me John King and if you are ready, let’s begin an hour tour of a musical Appalachia on this: Celebrated Sounds Of Appalachia.

(Theme song ‘Sail Away Lady’ played by Carl Johnson).

Folk biographer, Photographer, and musician John Cohen (Of the New Lost City Ramblers) was driving through Eastern Kentucky in 1959 looking for Folk musicians when he came across a tall wiry 47 year old man walking home from work pouring concrete. He was told this man played several instruments and asked if he would play a tune or two. After some coaxing the man agreed to one song. Cohen was so taken aback that he showed up at this man’s house everyday for three weeks asking to hear more. Soon after Cohen helped this man, Roscoe Holcomb, become a legend in the new folk revival sprouting up in college towns and coffee shops across America.  
Later Cohen would remember first hearing Holcomb by saying "I was hearing the avant-garde and the ancient, sitting in the middle of eastern Kentucky."
Personally I cannot think of a better way to explain Appalachian music than this.

(“Rose Connelly” [also known as Down In The Willow Garden] played by Roscoe Holcomb)

Roscoe Holcomb demonstrates  Appalachia’s contradictory Ancient and Avant Garde  nature In this song, Rose Connelly, also known in parts of Appalachia as  Down In The Willow Garden. Here Holcomb is signing a traditional Irish Ballad in the Lined Out style of the Old Regular Baptist choirs but with a sound unique to himself. Old Regular Baptists are mostly found in  the area. Singing in a lined out style, the never use instruments as the voice as seen as the instrument God has given us. Let’s hear an example of Lined-Out hymnody from The Old Regular Baptist Choir recorded in Kentucky in 1978.

(“He Whispers Sweet Peace To Me” performed by The Old Regular Baptist Choir)


Track Listing: 1) “Little Old Log Cabin In The Lane” performed by Wade and Julia Mainer 2) “Little Old Log Cabin In The Lane” performed by Bill Williams 3) “Black Is The Color” performed by Joan Salmon Campbell 4) “Black Is The Color” performed by Betty Smith 

The first fervor for Appalachian Music came around in the early 20th century when Musicologists  such as cecil sharp realized that old english ballads were still being sung in the region. Sharp was taken aback by the way the Appalachian people took pride in their history. This helped shaped the way people viewed Appalachian music. While it’s true that Music was continually handed down from generation to generation in Appalachia, it could hardly be said that Appalachian music has been frozen in time.  After all, this is the region that brought us Bluegrass, Country, and even the proto-punk sounds of Link Wray. carrying it’s past while sculpting new musical genres alongside it, Appalachian music is a contradictory plethora of sound  steeped in myth, legend, and fabrication.
Biographer Jeff Biggers wrote that “Appalachia needs to be embraced for it’s historic role as a vanguard region in the United States.” Vanguard may be a strange way to describe a region seen to many as old timey but this has mostly to do with how the outside world has packaged and distributed Appalachia.

Julia and Wade Mainer 
When radio hit it big in the 1920s music from the appalachian region became very popular. And then some strange things began to happen. Appalachian music was being put into categories like “Hillbilly” or “Race” music when for a long time it was just people playing music that they liked. We will hear two versions of the song Little Old Log Cabin In The Lane. The first will be by famed banjoist Wade Mainer, and seen as Hillbilly Music, the second will be played by Bill Williams and seen as Race Music.

(“Little Old Log Cabin In The Lane” performed by Wade and Julia Mainer)
(“Little Old Log Cabin In The Lane” performed by Bill Williams)

Another common occurrence is to list some songs as Country Songs and others as Jazz songs regardless if they really were or not.
We will hear two versions of the song “Black Is The Color” played by two different performers. The first, by Joan Salmon Campbell, would be listed as Jazz while the second, performed by Betty Smith, might be listed as Country or Hillbilly.
(“Black Is The Color” performed by Joan Salmon Campbell)

(“Black Is The Color” performed by Betty Smith)


Track Listing: 1) “Wildwood Flower” performed by Wade and Julia Mainer 2) “Rank Strangers” performed by Nora Carpenter 3) I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground played by Bascom Lamar Lunsford 4) 6th of January played by James Day/Jilson Setters 5) “Evergreen Shore” performed by Jean Ritchie 6) Amazing Grace played by Hubert Rogers

The next song we are going to hear is “We’re Stole and Sold From Africa” to show how Appalachian Ballads were not unique to white Hillbilly mountaineers as early radio would suggest, but that Appalachian music was shared by Black and white groups and often together interracially until the advent of radio split the two.  
(“We’re Stole and Sold From Africa” performed by Addie Graham)

Now music wasn’t just mixed up when it was exported out of Appalachia, but it was also imported and many times accidentally. In the 1920s when Appalachian Music became all the rage on the radio, many professional songwriters outside the region tried to emulate the sound. Some of these songs became so popular that were brought into the region, and played by Appalachian musicians who thought they were old songs that had been around for hundreds of years. In 1928 The carter Family had a hit with Wildwood Flower and is often mistaken as an Appalachian Song, as well as the song Rank Strangers  which is about Appalachia but written in Tin Pan Alley (New York). Let’s listen to these two songs.
(“Wildwood Flower” performed by Wade and Julia Mainer)
(“Rank Strangers” performed by Nora Carpenter)

A lot of the songs we have in our collection are from song collectors from inside the appalachian region. one such collector was bascom Lunsford, born in Madison County, North Carolina in 1882. Lunsford collected ballads and hosted folk music festivals and was known for his remarkable memory. He was said to be able to recall over 300 songs, this next is a favorite of mine called I Wish I Was A Mole in the ground.
(I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground played by Bascom Lamar Lunsford)

Other Appalachian music collectors couldn’t help but to shape Appalachian culture the way they thought it should be. Jean Thomas born in Ashland Kentucky in 1881 collected songs, hosted Festivals, and promoted musicians. Thomas said  that in Appalachia, "the speech, song, and traditions of old England still survived" although she often controlled what performers wore,  changed their names, and in the case of fiddler Jilson Setters,  changed his name and even personal history. Born James Day, Thomas didn’t think his name sounded Appalachian enough and changed it to Jilson Setters and fabricated his past to sound more dire, even referring to him as ‘The fiddler of Lost Hope Holler’ a fictitious place. With the heavy handed help of Jean Thomas, Setters became a star, eventually playing the Royal Albert Hall. Let’s hear a track by James Day called The 6th of January where we hear Jean Thomas pulling the reins.
(6th of January played by James Day/Jilson Setters).

Despite the reputation of Appalachia of being a place where old songs and traditions remain without change, some of the older songs were retooled for changing tastes. Let’s here jean Ritchie talk about the old song “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks” and sing a variation of it called “Evergreen Shore”
(“Evergreen Shore” performed by Jean Ritchie)

These are just some of sounds and stories of Appalachian music.  join us next time when we explore even more. until then we will go out like we always do with a version of Amazing Grace.
(Amazing Grace played by Hubert Rogers).

Biggers, Jeff. The United States of Appalachia. Preface. Counterpoint Press. 2006. P. XI.

Jones, Brian. Finding the Avant-Garde in the Old-Time: John Cohen in the American Folk Revival. American Music Volume 28, Number 4, Winter 2010. P. 402-435.

Cohen, John. The High Lonesome Sound: The Legacy of Roscoe Holcomb. Steidl Press. 2012.

1 comment:

  1. This was wonderful. I greatly enjoy string band music but it was nice to get a feel of the whole spectrum of appalachian music. The mellow pace was perfect for whittling on a Sunday night. I'm looking forward to the next one!