Billy Faier, 1930-2016

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We were saddened to hear that pioneering musician, banjoist, artist, writer, raconteur, and friend of the Southern Folklife Collection, Billy Faier, passed away on January 29 in Alpine, Texas. We are preparing a longer tribute to Billy’s career with some wonderful items from the Billy Faier Collection (20380) to appear on Field Trip South later this week, but as I was looking through his papers this afternoon, I couldn’t help but fixate on one of Billy’s non-musical passions, juggling.

After mastering the skill, Billy developed a notation system, much like music tablature, to teach others juggling techniques. He called the notation system “juglature.” From folder “OP-20380/8: Juglature Notes”, I scanned a few drawings that show the earliest sketches and experimental development of “juglature” that Faier would continue to develop for the instruction books he later wrote. Like so much of my favorite folklore, I love these drawings as much for their abstract and simple beauty as the utility and complexity of the narratives embedded within. Please do revisit Field Trip South this week for more in-depth tribute (with music, of course) to the remarkable Billy Faier. Rest in peace, Billy. 20380_OP20380_8_BillyFaier_jugglature_Southern Folklife Collection_00120380_OP20380_8_BillyFaier_jugglature_Southern Folklife Collection_00320380_OP20380_8_BillyFaier_jugglature_Southern Folklife Collection_002

Thornton Dial, 1928-2016

20491_ 063_Thornton Dial_Souls Grown Deep Foundation Photographic Collection_Southern Folklife Collection_UNC Chapel Hill We were saddened to learn that artist Thornton Dial passed away yesterday at his home in McCalla, Alabama. Our thoughts are with his loving family and friends. Dial will certainly be remembered as one of the most important artists of the last fifty years. Thanks to the early efforts of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, founded by William Arnett, the Southern Folklife Collection holds a number of slides that document Mr. Dial, his artwork, and workspace where he created the fantastic assemblages such as those pictured here, all from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Photographic Collection (20491) in the Southern Folklife Collection.20491_ 079_Thornton Dial_Souls Grown Deep Foundation Photographic Collection_Southern Folklife Collection_UNC Chapel Hill

The complete collection of Thornton Dial images will soon be digitized available for research through the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Photographic Collection (20491) finding aid. Already, you can view work by Dial’s colleagues and contemporaries like Asberry Davis, Mary T. Smith, Lonnie Holley (who introduced Dial to Arnett), and Dial’s cousin, Ronald Lockett. We will link to more of Dial’s work in the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Photographic Collection (20491) finding aid when that content goes live. For now, we pulled a few scans currently in progress that show a but a few examples of the remarkable variety of Dial’s oeuvre in the space where they were created. 20491_ 052_Thornton Dial_Souls Grown Deep Foundation Photographic Collection_Southern Folklife Collection_UNC Chapel Hill _220491_ 072_Thornton Dial_Souls Grown Deep Foundation Photographic Collection_Southern Folklife Collection_UNC Chapel Hill 20491_ 081_Thornton Dial_Souls Grown Deep Foundation Photographic Collection_Southern Folklife Collection_UNC Chapel Hill 20491_ 077_Thornton Dial_Souls Grown Deep Foundation Photographic Collection_Southern Folklife Collection_UNC Chapel Hill

Folklife in Motion

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One of the reasons we love hearing from all of you brilliant researchers out there is that your questions give us the opportunity to explore parts of the collection we may not have seen in a while. One recent query led me back into into the Robert Bolton Collection (20408). When I opened the folder of negatives, my eyes were immediatly drawn to the one-word description of five sleeves of negatives, “GYROCOPTER.”

Our attention to Bolton’s work in the past has generally led us to his mid-1960s documentary work covering music performances like Bob Dylan’s first tour with The Band, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and more at the 1965 Chicgago Jazz Festival, and the Ole Time Fiddler’s & Bluegrass Festival in Union Grove, N.C. However, the nearly 2000 images in Bolton’s collection reach far beyond cultural events. Bolton frenquently traveled from his home in Knoxville throughout the Eastern United States, photographing the people he met and the places he stopped along the way, documenting the social landscape of the American South from the mid 1950s through the early 1980s. Apparently, at some point along the way, Bolton ran into Al Cudney, a Canadian-born gyronaut and engineer who worked, at least temporarily, for the rotorcraft pioneer, Dr. Igor Bensen. The Bensen Aircraft Corporation was located near the Raliegh-Durham Airport, possibly resulting in a higher-than-average percentage of gyrocoptor owners in North Carolina compared to other states. Bensen organized clubs and associations of rotorcraft builders and perhaps these photographs docment a local club gathering. For an excellent review of Igor Bensen and gyrocopters in NC, see this excellent post by Harry McKown on our sibling blog from the North Carolina Collection, North Carolina Miscellany.

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Bolton’s photos of Cudney (and possibly others) flying the autogyro in the clear skies over this rural airfield in North Carolina in 1968 are magnificent, but they raise so many questions: Where exactly is this airfield? What is the nature of this exposition or event? Who is flying that thing? And especially: How can we get our hands on one of those?. If you are rotorcraft hobbyist or researcher, we would love to hear what you think!
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Something else we love about queries from intrepid researchers that lead us to discoveries like Bolton’s 1968 gyrocopter session, is the push to constantly review and reassess the “the stuff” of folklore. Music and stories surely come to mind first for most students we work with at UNC, but students of material culture can also find many wonderful resources in the Southern Folklife Collection‘s holdings documenting architecture, quilts, gravestones, sculpture, woodworking, and more. Bolton’s photographs push the boundaries even further, revealing communities and the craftmanship of makers and machinists experimenting with technology and tradition like Cudney and Benson’s rotorcraft enthusiats.

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Thank you, Starman


I woke up this morning to learn that David Bowie had left the planet Earth. Like so many, I was unprepared for this news.  As the day progresses, the impact of the world’s loss cuts deeper with every youtube link shared by his seemingly endless legions of fans and the very poignant memorials shared by his closest friends. I think I need a day or two before I can handle Blackstar again, but what do you do when you can’t handle listening to your David Bowie catalog but you want to pay tribute to one of the most important artists of our time? Track down the recordings the man himself venerated.

In November 2003 Bowie selected 25 favorites from his collection in a Vanity Fair article called “Confessions of a Vinyl Junkie.” The list includes Toots and the Maytals’ Funky Kingston, Harry Partch’s Delusion of the Fury, and the Fugs’ 1966 self-titled record.

The Fugs, anchored by poets Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, recorded irreverent songs like “Group Grope” and “Kill for Peace,” with little regard for production values or flawless takes.

Bowie’s description:

“The sleeve notes were written by Allen Ginsberg and contain these prescient lines: ‘Who’s on the other side? People who think we are bad. Other side? No, let’s not make it a war, we’ll all be destroyed, we’ll go on suffering till we die if we take the War Door.’ I found on the Internet the text for a newsprint ad for the Fugs, who, coupled with the Velvet Underground, played the April Fools Dance and Models Ball at the Village Gate in 1966. The F.B.I. had them on their books as ‘the Fags.’ This was surely one of the most lyrically explosive underground bands ever. Not the greatest musicians in the world, but how ‘punk’ was all that? Tuli Kupferberg, Fugs co-writer and performer, in collaboration with Ed Sanders, has just finished the new Fugs album as I write. Tuli is 80 years old.”

That list was written twelve years ago and Kupferberg, too, has since shuffled off this mortal coil – but not before creating art in various media through several decades. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised Bowie, who released an album two days before his death, counted Tuli among his heroes. And so now we’ll listen to The Fugs, and imagine David Bowie listening to The Fugs, and imagine Tuli listening to David Bowie. And it won’t be forgotten. May the fantastic voyage continue.


Holiday in the Stacks: It’s a postcard! It’s a 78! It’s both!

20002_Archie Green Papers_FD_1289_RosemaryClooney_flexi_Southern Folklife Collection_001Southern Folklife Collection audio engineer, John Loy, found this amazing postcard/78 rpm disc in the Archie Green Papers (20002) just last month. Serendipity! Notice the grooves and the center hole in the middle of the windshield. We were amazed by the sound quality and the excellent condition considering folklorist Pete Tamony, Archie’s mentor, received this in the mail 60 years ago. Listen to this special message from Ford Motors as sung by the great Rosemary Clooney backed by the Mitch Miller Orchestra. May you all be well this holiday season, whether you take Rosemary Clooney’s advice or not. We wish you enjoyment and year-round satisfaction no matter what. One more post from the 2015 “Holiday in the Stacks” tomorrow so be sure to check back in with Field Trip South. 

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Holiday in the Stacks: Dale Evans and Clancey


The “Holiday in the Stacks” continues with two more holiday 78 rpm discs. First Dale Evans and the Roy Rogers Riders and Orchestra with a reindeer tune that plays off almost every Christmas trope they could fit in under two minutes. 

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On a totally different track, a holiday vignette from “Clancey’s”. Originally recorded and released on cylinder in 1908, “Christmas Morning at Clancey’s” chronicles the morning festivities of an Irish family in turn of the century New York. 

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Check in tomorrow for a special message from Rosemary Clooney and Ford motors.


Holiday in the Stacks: Sonny Boy Wlliamson and Clarence Williams

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As mentioned in our first post from the 2015 “Holiday in the Stacks,” we are excited to share some of the Southern Folklife Collection’s holiday themed 78rpm discs. First up, maybe two of the best.

First, blues giant Sonny Boy Williamson (nee Alex Ford) with “Sonny Boy’s Christmas Blues” from 78-12536. Released on Mississippi’s Trumpet Records in 1951, it’s a tough number about a bummer christmas of drunken remorse (but with some great tape echo effects on Williamson’s voice). For more on Trumpet Records, see this excellent post from musicologist, archivist, and former SFC cataloger Jessica Wood. Listen to the track here:

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Next up a more upbeat celebration of the holiday, although also heavy on the booze, from a Vocalion disc released in 1934, the great jazz composer, bandleader, and music publisher, Clarence Williams and his orchestra, featuring Chick Bullock on the vocals. Listen to 78-13931 here. 

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Coming up, Dale Evans sings about 8 tiny reindeer, Rosemary Clooney and Ford wish you a Merry Christmas, and Oscar and Lonzo twist up some holiday classics.

Holiday in the stacks: cards from the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific

20002_ArchieGreenPapers_F3823_Holiday Cards_Sailors Union of the Pacific_Southern Folklife Collection_01Running toward the finish line of 2015, it’s been a great year at the Southern Folklife Collection. We pulled a bunch of items to share with you all over the next two weeks for our annual “Holiday in the Stacks” feature. Can’t wait for you to hear some of the 78 rpm discs we pulled so be sure to come back to Field Trip South to hear some special tunes. 20002_F3823_Sailors Union of the Pacific_xmas_Archie Green Papers_Southern Folklife Collection_005

But first, a tribute to the workers of the world. Archie Green worked with countless unions and labor organizers over the years, but I beleive as he was a Journeyman Shipwright and a sailor in the Navy, that the sea always held a special place in his heart. So in honor of Archie and all those who help to move the material goods that make the world go round, we pulled these holiday cards from the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific from Folder 3823 in the Archie Green Papers (20002)20002_ArchieGreenPapers_F3823_Holiday Cards_Sailors Union of the Pacific_Southern Folklife Collection_02

This Week on Hell or High Water: Selections from the Newport Folk Festival


This week on Hell or High Water, we’ll be featuring music from the three volumes of the 1964 Newport Folk Festival evening concerts, largely inspired by last Monday’s SFC lecture by Elijah Wald, “Dylan Goes Electric! Music, Myth, and History.”


Dylan’s electric performance in 1965, according to Wald, “split the Sixties.” Previously, the Newport Folk Festival had been a time celebrating traditional folk music alongside popular “new wave” artists, like Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Phil Ochs. The hopes were that pairing these traditions with popular artists would draw a crowd and help new or unknown artists gain a following.



The Newport Folk Festival showcased the many different types of traditional folk present in this country, from cajun to country to blues. We hope that featuring this record will, like the original festival, showcase the diversity of what constitutes folk music.


To quote Stacey Williams on the 1964 festival, “And what was most remarkable was the homogeneity of the event as a whole, with all this wonderful variety adding up to a feeling of one brotherhood, as hard to define as it is easy to sense; ‘many branches from the same tree’ is a lame way to put it, but it hints at the idea.”

Tune in this Sunday from 1-2pm on WXYC-Chapel Hill, 89.3FM, or online via live stream. 

This Week on Hell or High Water: William Faulkner and the Blues

Tune into Hell or High Water this Sunday, 1-2pm, for a special episode focusing on renowned Mississippi author William Faulkner’s connection to and use of blues music in his writing. Hell or High Water features music from the Southern Folklife Collection every Sunday on WXYC-Chapel Hill 89.3FM. Turn your radio on or stream online at
We’ll be reading aloud his 1931 short story “That Evening Sun,” which deals primarily with the ignored and invalidated suffering of a black woman named Nancy in the Reconstruction South.
The story gets its name from the W.C. Handy song “Saint Louis Blues,” and we’ll play several variations of the song as well as others dealing with “that evening sun.” We’ll also discuss the blues motifs present in Faulkner’s work, and how in the case of “That Evening Sun,” the short story could be interpreted as a sort of blues song in and of itself.
Artists that will be featured include Duke Ellington, Van Morrison, Ted Lewis, and Mississippi John Hurt. Tune in on WXYC-Chapel Hill 89.3FM or stream online at