The Banjo: Southern Roots, American Branches

BILL BIRCHFIELD OF THE ROAN MOUNTAIN HILLTOPPERS, PHOTO BY ALICE GERRARD.

The Southern Folklife Collection is pleased to announce The Banjo: Southern Roots, American Branches, Saturday, August 25, 2012. This exhibit, symposium and concert is the first of the three-part Southern Folklife Collection Instrument Series. Panels, exhibits, and concerts in 2013 will feature the pedal steel guitar and the fiddle. The series seeks to provide an opportunity for music lovers to learn from leading musicians and scholars about the music, history, and culture of the American South.

Please join us first for the banjo symposium Saturday, August 25 from 10am to 4pm in the Pleasants Family Assembly Room, Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC-CH, followed by a free concert in UNC’s Memorial Hall including master pickers Tony Trischka, Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Riley Baugus with Kirk Sutphin. This is a free but ticketed event. Tickets are now available at the Memorial Hall Box Office, 919.843.3333.

The symposium features lectures and panel discussions on the history of the banjo with:

  • Robert Cantwell, UNC Professor of American Studies; Author of Bluegrass Breakdown
  • Bob Carlin, Musician and Author of The Birth of the Banjo
  • Cecelia Conway, Appalachian State University Professor of English; Author of African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia
  • Laurent Dubois, Duke Professor of Romance Studies and History
  • Dom Flemons, musician (Carolina Chocolate Drops)
  • Phillip Gura, UNC Professor of American Studies; Author of America’s Instrument: The Banjo in the 19th Century
  • Jim Mills, musician (Ricky Scaggs, Vince Gill) Six time winner of IBMA Banjo Player of the Year Award.
  • Stephen Wade, Musician and Author of The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience

Don’t miss the accompanying exhibit tracing the history and development of the banjo, featuring instruments, photographs, recordings and ephemera from the Southern Folklife Collection.The exhibit opens August 25th and runs through Dec 31, 2012. on the 4th Floor, Wilson Library. Follow the Southern Folklife Collection on facebook or come back to Field Trip South for updates.

And now a couple more photos from the same roll as the one featured above from the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006). These photos feature Joe and Bill Birchfield of the great family stringband from Carter, Tennessee, The Roan Mountain Hilltoppers. Bill is demonstrating his unique banjo style, playing backwards, upside-down, and left-handed.

Photo of the week: Matokie Slaughter

 

The end of UNC’s school year came up on us extremely fast. We are sad to see our student assistants, upon whom we depend to keep the SFC machine running smooth, graduate and go on to other things. We can’t thank them enough. Recently, one of these intrepid employees digitized a great number of photographs from the Alice Gerrrard Collection (#20006). The image above, a beautiful portrait of legendary old time banjo player Matokie Worrell Slaughter, came from a set of 35mm slides.

Originally from Pulaski, Virginia, Matokie Slaughter performed with her family on local radio during the 1940s and became a regular at fiddler’s conventions. She is featured on a number of recordings, including a band she formed with her sister, Virgie Richardson, and Alice Gerrard called the Back Creek Buddies.

The SFC holde many recordings of Slaughter in the form commercial releases, like the excellent 1978 County LP, Clawhammer Banjo, vol. 3, and field recordings from the Alice Gerrard and Paul Brown collections. Check back for another photo tomorrow.

More photos of the week: Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs with the Foggy Mountain Boys

Life as a country musician has never been easy and Earl Scruggs spent grueling years on the road in the late 1940s pioneering the bluegrass sound with fellow road warriors Bill Monroe, Chubby Wise, Howard Watts, and Lester Flatt. After Flatt and Scruggs left the Blue Grass Boys in 1948, the popularity of Bluegrass music began to grow and through the resourceful management of Louise Certain, soon to be Louise Scruggs, the band secured the sponsorship of Martha White Flour and what was hopefully a more comfortable means of transportation. Still between radio performances, recording sessions, and live shows, the band often performed multiple times per day. The image below features The Foggy Mountain Boys on an unknown stage in the 1950s.

 

 

SFC Photo of the Week: Mike Seeger and Elizabeth Cotten

Another image from the Mike from the Mike Seeger Collection, this time playing guitar with his dear friend, Chapel Hill’s beloved Libba Cotten, in 1978 or 1979.

Join us tonight, March 23, 2012, in Wilson Library on UNC’s campus for a discussion and concert in celebration of the life and work of musician, documentarian, and scholar Mike Seeger.

SFC Photo of the Week: Mike Seeger

We wanted to share a few photos from the Mike Seeger Collection in advance of the tribute concert and lecture on Friday, March 23. The image above, featuring Seeger recording William Bragg along with a group of interested students, was captured in Widen, West Virginia by Alice Gerrard in 1967.

Gerrard will perform at the tribute concert along with Ginny Hawker and Mike Seeger’s former band mates from the New Lost City Ramblers, John Cohen and Tracy Schwarz.

Photo of the Week: Merle Haggard and the Texas Playboys

P2998, from the John Edwards Memorial Foundation Collection (#20001), is but one of a series of photographs documenting the recording sessions for Bob Wills’s final album, For the Last Time. Sessions, produced by the legendary guitarist Tommy Allsup (another former Cricket like Bobby Durham), took place just outside of Dallas on December 3 and 4, 1973.

Haggard drove all night from Chicago to participate on the final day after begging permission from Wills to attend. Sadly, Wills was unable to complete the session after suffering a severe stroke on the night of December 3 and slipping into a coma the following day never to retain consciousness. Haggard and the band, the first reunion of the Texas Playboys since Wills disbanded the group in the 1960s, pressed on with noted successor of the Bob Wills sound Hoyle Nix stepping up into the boots of his hero to lead the group.

We are not positive, but we believe the photo above includes Haggard, fiddlers Keith Coleman and Johnny Gimble, steel guitarist Leon McCauliffe, and the back of guitarist Eldon Shamblin’s head.

 

Photo of the Week: Bobby Durham

Bobby Durham was not just a smart dressed man. A prominent vocalist with the Bakersfield sound, Durham got his start in country music performing on California country music variety shows like Town Hall Party and Hometown Jamboree.  After stints with Cousin Ebb Pillings’s Ozark Squirrel Shooters and Jolly Judy and her Go-Go Daddies, Durham signed with Capitol Records in the early 1960s.  He scored a major hit with the Merle Haggard penned classic “My Past is Present,” earning Durham a 1965 Academy of Country Music Awards nomination for “Most Promising Male Vocalist.” Durham later joined The Crickets, performing some excellent progressive country with the group in the early 1970s.

Durham returned to Bakersfield in the 1980s, recording solo albums for Hightone Records like the popular Do You Still Drink Margeritas and Where I Grew Up.  Durham continues to perform with his Durham Band at Buck Owens’s Crystal Palace.

The photo above, call no. P599, is part of the John Edwards Memorial Foundation Collection (#20001).

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Every Sincere Wish” from Hank Snow, Ralph McGee and the SFC

“Every Sincere Wish,” a rather open ended valediction, is what Hank Snow wanted for the recipient of this autographed photo, call no. P1600 from the John Edwards Memorial Foundation Collection (#20001). Perhaps he hoped that all their wishes might be granted, that all their dreams might come true? We like to think that Clarence Eugene “Hank” Snow was offering to grant the wishes himself, but with the caveat that they must be “sincere,” and pity the fool who tried to get one over on the “Singing Ranger.” Despite the lack of specificity, we agree with the sentiment and we extend it on to you via this great Canadian-American country music star from his Rainbow Ranch in Tennessee.

It’s been a busy fall at the SFC and we want to offer our thanks to all the participants–musicians, speakers, audience members, students, and staff–who contributed to the great success of the Southern Folklife Collection tribute concert and symposium in honor of blues legend Reverend Gary Davis. Stay tuned for upcoming information on our third concert in the SFC blues tribute series, this one dedicated to the legendary Son House.

Since many will be celebrating this coming holiday with a roasted bird, we thought it only appropriate to offer a version of “Turkey in the Straw” for your listening pleasure. This recording by the great King, NC fiddler Ralph McGee comes from open reel tape FT-12000, Tape 3 recorded at the 8th Annual Blue Grass and Old Time Fiddlers Convention, Veteran’s Park, Mount Airy, NC, 2 June 1979. Part of the Ralph Epperson Collection (#20401), this recording features fiddler McGee bowing with a toothpick. Maybe some of you fiddlers out there want to give it a shot this weekend after a good meal. Let us know how it works out.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 Call no. FT-12000, “Turkey in the Straw” by Ralph McGee at the 8th Annual Mount Airy Blue Grass and Old Time Fiddlers Convention, 2 June 1979

 


 

SFC Spotlight: Vogue Records

Another item from our upcoming exhibit.  This Vogue picture disc, catalog number R764 (according to this excellent discography), features Shep Fields and his Orchestra (also known as Shep Fields and his Rippling Rhythm Orchestra) performing Sunny Skylar and Patrick Lewis’s hit song “Whatta ya Gonna Do!” and everybody’s favorite “I Guess I’ll Get the Papers (and go home).”  The image is attributed only to the mysterious “Sprink,” an illustrator who painted many of the Vogue discs and we now know was the artist Walter F. Sprink.

Vogue picture discs were made from May 1946 until April 1947 by Sav-Way Industries, Inc. of Detroit, Michigan.  According to the history compiled by the now defunct Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors, Sav-Way CEO Tom Saffady and his engineers developed a new and complicated manufacturing process to ensure 78 rpm discs that were not only aesthetically beautiful but also hi-fidelity audio.  Most of the Vogue records feature post-war big band jazz orchestras, but a few include blues and even some country from those famed Sweethearts of Country Music, North Carolina’s own Lulu Belle and Scotty (nee Myrtle Eleanor Cooper and Scotty Greene Wiseman), and Patsy Montana.

The exhibit opens this Thursday, October 20th, as part of a celebration of the UNC Music Library 75th Anniversary.

The exhibit Curating Sound: 75 Years of Music Collections at UNC will open with a keynote address at 5:45 p.m. by Dr. Tim Carter, the David G. Frey Distinguished Professor of Music at UNC, titled “Adventures of an Archive Rat, or How Kurt Weill Came to Chapel Hill in May 1936.”

At 6:30 p.m. will be a concert titled “From Early to Old-Time: A Concert of Music from the Collections.” UNC students, music library staff members, and community musicians will perform music in four genres: Irish traditional, Baroque, early rockabilly, and old-time.

Curating Sound features original publications and artifacts from the Music Library and the Wilson Special Collections Library and will be on view through Jan. 31, 2012.

We hope to see you on Thursday, October 20.