In tribute to B. B. King

20367_BKP_2527_King at YaleBy now I am sure that most of our readers have learned that the great Riley B. King, better known as B. B. King, died at his home in Las Vegas May 14, 2015 at the age of 89. At the Southern Follklife Collection, King’s presence is never far. Folklorist and great friend of the SFC, Bill Ferris, worked alongside B. B. King for many years and documented the time they spent together extensively. We couldn’t help but share the following letter where King writes to his friend Bill about his 1974 visit to Yale University, storing the memories of his visit “in the archives of my heart.”

BBKing025P20367_2528_Ferris_King_EncyclopediaThere is far too much content in the William R. Ferris Collection (20367) to share in a blog post, but we welcome all of you to visit The Wilson Library to see more and perhaps more importantly, hear more. Besides the more than 200 sound recordings featuring King in the SFC, there are also numerous field recordings, both interview and performance, as well as film and video documenting King’s life and career. Listen to B. B. King speaking to a class at Yale in 1974:

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All of the images in this post except for the commercial sound recordings come from the Ferris collection. Already the internet is full of wonderful images, songs, and remembrances of King. Taken as a whole, they serve as a powerful reminder of King’s life and career, demonstrating the massive impact he has had on American music and culture while simultaneously pointing at the legacy that will reverberate far into the future.

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We could not avoid posting some images of King in performance, cradling Lucille, King’s face twisted with emotion, images so powerful I can hear the music in my head just by looking.

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But as with so many persons whose lives and works are documented and preserved in cultural institutions like the SFC, what stands out are the candid moments: quiet times between sets, casual conversations with fans (be they prison guards or inmates at Parchman Penitentiary), relaxing at home, or meetings with students.

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Thanks to Bill and many others who have shared their stories of King over the years, we’ve learned it’s these in-between moments that reflect the humble spirit, open heart and inimitable kindness that King demonstrated every day of his life. It was his love of humanity and love of life that fueled his music and we are all better because he so willingly shared his gifts around the world.

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We extend our heartfelt condolences to King’s family, friends and fans. The King is dead. Long live the King.

Rest easy, B.

20367_BKP_6_76_5_BB King in repose

In tribute to Guy Carawan

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20008_PF20008_15_Carawan_Banjo_013Singer, folklorist, activist and organizer Guy Carawan is a hero. He died last week at the age of 87. At the Southern Folklife Collection, we are lucky to be in the presence of Guy and Candie through the legacy of his work archived in the Guy and Candie Carawan Collection (20008). Like many heroes, Guy and Candie Carawan worked tirelessly and constantly. Prior to their meeting at the Highlander Folk School in 1960 to present day, the Carawans dedicated their lives to fighting for social justice through political engagement, education, and organizing. They believed in the power of song and the unbreakable spirit forged when multiple voices rise up in harmony and solidarity. Numerous media outlets have detailed Guy Carawan’s legacy in obituaries this week. More people have learned of Carawan’s role in popularizing an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, “We Shall Overcome,” teaching it to organizers at the first meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Raleigh in 1960, this week than ever before. Our hope is that the materials presented here can expand from that moment and expose more of the world to the life and work of our friend and hero, Guy Carawan.

Carawan's banjo head, signed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Septima Clark, Fred Shuttlesworth and many more

Carawan’s banjo head, signed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Septima Clark, Fred Shuttlesworth and many more.  (click to zoom)

Every year, scholars from around the world expose me to new facets of the Carawans’ work through their research. Choosing what to share to honor Guy’s life from a collection of almost 20,000 items is an impossible task. Hundreds of open reel and audio cassette tapes made by the Carawans document the cultures of various groups of people in the South including significant speeches, sermons, and musical performances recorded during major civil rights demonstrations and conferences in Nashville, Birmingham, Atlanta. These recordings include master tapes of several documentary albums released on Folkways Records and feature such influential figures as Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, James Bevel, Len Chandler, the Georgia Sea Island Singers, and Nashville Mayor R. Benjamin West.

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Numerous field recordings of worship meetings, songs, stories, and recollections from Johns Island, S.C., document elements of the African American heritage of the rural South Carolina Low Country. Included are complete recordings of all-night Christmas and New Year’s watch meetings held in Moving Star Hall, a community praise house, as well as interviews with civic leader and activist Esau Jenkins about socio-economic improvements and efforts to overcome racial discrimination and poverty on Johns Island in the 1950s and 1960s. Listen to Esau Jenkins talk about his life on St. John’s Island followed by a prayer from the Moving Star Hall church, from open reel tape FT3617:

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Members of the Moving Star Hall Singers, Ruth Bligen, Janie Hunter, Bertha Smith, Mary Pinckney. photo by Wade Spees. 20008_PF20008_13

Members of the Moving Star Hall Singers, Ruth Bligen, Janie Hunter, Bertha Smith, Mary Pinckney. photo by Wade Spees. 20008_PF20008_13

20008_Folder156_JohnsIsland_FolkSongFestival_008Born 7 July 1927 in Santa Monica, Calif. Guy’s father was from Mesic, North Carolina in the Eastern part of the state. While pursuing a degree in mathematics at Occidental College, Carawan studied folklore with Austin Fife and began to perform as a folksinger. He subsequently completed a master’s degree in sociology at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he continued his study of folklore with Wayland Hand. During the early 1950s, Carawan grew interested in incorporating folk music and topical songs into progressive socio-political activism and became involved in the People’s Song movement, meeting such activist-musicians as Pete Seeger and Lee Hays. In the late 1950s, Carawan released albums on Folkways Records, including Songs By Guy Carawan, SFC call number FC5349, featuring the playing of John Cohen (who Carawan met at jam sessions in Washington Square Park).FC5379_Southern Folklife Collection_UNC_Chapel Hill002

Carawan released a number of albums with Folkways, his second featured liner notes by Alan Lomax. img001In 1959, after the death of his teacher and collaborator Zilphia Horton, he became the director of music at the Highlander Folk School, an institution that provided instruction in social organization and was a meeting place for people interested in the civil rights movement and related causes in the South.

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20008_Folder11_Highlander Folk School Map

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Candie Anderson, also from southern California, became interested in the black civil rights movement while in high school. She attended Pomona College near Los Angeles, but spent her junior year of college at Fisk University, a historically African American institution in Nashville, Tenn. While there, she participated in pro-integration demonstrations led by black students in Nashville. She became acquainted with Guy Carawan during a workshop at the Highlander School.20008_Folder06_Sit_In_Songs_010

Candie and Guy Carawan remained affiliated with the Highlander Center and with the predominantly black community of Johns Island, S.C., where they addressed issues of racial discrimination and rural poverty, particularly through a citizenship education program formulated by the Highlander School.

20008_PF20008_8_Dickens,_Carawan_Workman_011  Hazel Dickens, Guy Carawan, and Nimrod Workman, at Coal Workshop at Hindman, 1986

Hazel Dickens, Guy Carawan, and Nimrod Workman, at Coal Workshop at Hindman, 1986

They participated in major civil rights campaigns in Birmingham, Atlanta, and other southern cities. Participating in Freedom Rides and the Birmingham Mass Meeting.

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Through workshops at the Highlander Center and elsewhere, they collected variants of African American spirituals and other songs for use in civil rights demonstrations and shared them with other participants, publishing a number of books like the following We Shall Overcome(Oak Publications, 1963).M1629_C2_W4_We Shall Overcome_Southern Folklife Collection_UNC Chapel Hill

Throughout their careers, the Carawans have sought to document the music and culture of various groups of people with whom they have worked. They have been involved in the production of seventeen documentary recordings and seven films and have written five books, including three anthologies of songs associated with the civil rights movement. All the while, Guy continued to perform and record on his own as well as produce recordings by other artists. He will be missed but he will not be forgotten.

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Workers of the World Unite! May Day in the Mike Seeger and Broadside Collections

flyer from album FC25202 in the Mike Seeger Collection, Southern Folklife Collection , UNC Chapel HillFor all workers, past, present, and future on this 126th International Workers’ Day we present this promotional flyer for the 1978 Folk Song Festival in Helsinki Finland, found inserted in a LP sleeve (along with miniature sticker versions of the flyer) in the SFC’s Mike Seeger Collection, FC-25202.

The 1978 festival and flyer honored Chilean activist singer-songwriter Victor Jara who was murdered, along with thousands of other victims, by the Chilean Army a day after the military coup September 11, 1973. Jara’s 1969 composition “Plegaria a un Labrador” (“Public Prayer to a worker”) remains a powerful call for solidarity in the struggle for human rights. Hear Jara perform “Plegeria a un Labrador” with his group Quilapayún here.

Open reel tape, FT9374, in the Broadside Collection (20289) includes recordings from a series of 1974 benefit concerts for Chile organized by Phil Ochs in New York City after the death of President Salvador Allende, Victor Jara, and countless others. Musicians included Larry Estrige, Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, and Arlo Guthrie. The latter performed a song dedicated to the life of Victor Jara based on a poem written by Adrian Miller. Listen to that track below:

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And finally on this May Day we would like to leave you with one of Woody Guthrie’s protest ballads, “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).” The heartbreaking song memorializes the nameless migrants killed in a plane crash in Los Gatos canyon in 1948. It is sung by Sis Cunningham, recorded on FS5695 in the Broadside Collection (20289).

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Fred Gerlach and Rev. Gary Davis at Town Hall, 1958

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A couple of weeks ago, friend of the Southern Folklife Collection, Bob Carlin, brought in a few reels of 16mm film, 35mm negatives, and open reel tapes from the Fred Gerlach estate. More on the film on a future date, but Bob’s visit had me looking into the music of Fred Gerlach. A remarkable and innovative 12-string guitar player I first heard on volume 2 of Tompkins Square‘s brilliantly curated multi-volume guitar series, Imaginational Anthem, Gerlach released only three albums throughout his career: Twelve-String Guitar – Folk Songs and Blues Sung and Played by Fred Gerlach (Folkways, 1962), Songs My Mother Never Sang (Takoma, 1968), and a cassette, Easy Rider (Eyrie, 1993).

An active participant in the 1950s New York folk scene, Gerlach spent time playing with and learning from Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, and Tiny Ledbetter (Leadbelly’s niece). Along with Tiny Robinson, Gerlach made recordings Reverend Gary Davis in 1957 that later became the album Pure Religion and Bad Company (77 Records, 1961). Knowing he spent time in Washington Square Park and the Folklore Center, it was no surprise to find images of Gerlach in the Photo-Sound Associates images in the Ron Cohen Collection (20239). Photo-Sound Associates photographer, Ray Sullivan documented this concert by Gerlach, on his 12-string, and Reverend Gary Davis at Town Hall on 8 March,1958. For more images seeImage Folder PF-20239/007_02 in the finding aid for the Ron Cohen Collection (20239). Gerlach moved to California in the early 1960s and lived there until his death in 2009. He became well known woodworker, luthier, craftsman (he was reportedly building an airplane in his attic) and musician. He continued to play, if sporadically, around town, often at Los Angeles laundromats, and was a regular at McCabe’s Guitar Store where Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal likely picked up a few pointers.

We would love to have been at this concert in 1958. You can hear at least one tune by Gerlach online, his version of Gallows Pole.”

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Out of the stacks: a sampling from the SFC reference shelf

 

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Fun research in the Southern Folklife Collection today. Always great to have an opportunity to dig through the SFC reference books. If you’d like to join us for some research, please visit Wilson Library and jump right in with one of these texts, like The golden years : Kitty Wells (pictured above).

ML3481D53_A_Study_of_the_Ballads_of_a_Mexican_American_Hero005The Kennedy corridos : a study of the ballads of a Mexican American hero

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Medicine fiddle : a humanities discussion guide, a film by Michael Loukinen

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Giant photos Country Music program book

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Country Music Spectacular Souvenir Album

 

 

 

Out of the stacks: digging in the SFC reference books

Pop_Scrapbook_004_ ML400 .P67 1966_Southern_Folklife_CollectionFun research in the Southern Folklife Collection today. Always great to have an opportunity to dig through the SFC reference books. If you’d like to join us for some research, please visit Wilson Library and jump right in with one of these texts, like The “Pop” scrapbook : photos and stories of the top recording artists.

Country_Music_News_	ML3524 .C665 1969_Southern_Folklife_CollectionCountry music news, 1948-1969 ; Top records, 1944-1969

Moods_of_Elvis_003_ML420.P96 F27 2009_Southern_Folklife_CollectionMoods of Elvis / David Fair, Chad Fair, James Brohawn. Memphis_Blues_001_	ML3521 .B43 2006_Southern_Folklife_CollectionMemphis blues : birthplace of a music tradition William Bearden ; foreword by Knox Phillips

Heroes_of_Blues_Jazz_And_Country_002_ML394 .C35 2006 _Southern_Folklife_CollectionR. Crumb’s heroes of blues, jazz, & country

Cataloger’s Corner: Stuart Hamblen for President

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Stuart Hamblen is known today as a singing cowboy who produced radio programs such as “Covered Wagon Jubilee” and eventually “Cowboy Church of the Air.” He was also a major songwriter and recording star—one of the first C&W artists to record for Decca.

A Texas native, Hamblen moved to Los Angeles in the 1920s to start a career in radio. After a brief stint performing with the Beverly Hillbillies, he began hosting his own show. He also began making headlines for his drinking, gambling, and debt-related lawsuits, as well as for owning and training hunting dogs and racehorses. (Incidentally, he was the first person to send a horse to a race on an airplane–Flying Tiger was the name of the airline).

In 1938, Hamblen became one of a series of C&W celebrity-politicians when he ran as a Democrat for congressman of L.A.’s 11th district. (Other examples included W. Lee O’Daniel who served as governor of Texas, Jimmy Davis who served as governor of Louisiana, and Roy Acuff who ran for governor of Tennessee). Hamblen’s candidacy apparently disturbed many Democrats from his district, largely because he campaigned in character, incorporating his guitar and cowboy persona. One Los Angeles Times article referred to him as the “Bourbon candidate for Congress.” Not surprisingly, he did not win.

A decade later, in 1949, Hamblen attended one of evangelist Billy Graham’s tent meetings in Los Angeles—the meeting inspired him to quit drinking and to devote his life to the Christian faith. When his radio station KMTR subsequently asked him to promote a beer brand on air, he refused and lost his show. The beer ad incident put Hamblen on the radar of the Prohibition Party; after General Douglas MacArthur refused the invitation to run as the 1952 Prohibition presidential candidate, Hamblen was recruited for the role. With a retired professor (Enoch A. Holtwick) as a running mate, Hamblen came in 4th place, with 73,412 popular votes.

At the Prohibition Party’s convention, Hamblen played his hit song “It Is No Secret (What God Can Do),” treating it as the theme song of the campaign. At some point during 1951-1952, he used the song as well in a 78rpm recording (likely intended for radio play), entitled “Hamblen for President.” On each side, Hamblen explains his platform and emphasizes that prohibition would not be reinstated if he were elected. A few excerpts from both sides are below.

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The recording is cataloged and available at the Southern Folklife Collection as 78-17711, along with many of Hamblen’s commercial recordings and reel-to-reel tapes of his radio show “Cowboy Church of the Air.”

Graphic design of the Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention at Union Grove

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Grateful for the opportunity to research in the Fiddlers’ Grove Collection (20016) this week, my eyes were drawn to the iconic graphic design of the 1960s era souvenir programs in Folder 69 of the collection. Especially ripe for analysis is the advertisement for the Davie Electric Membership Corp, “Serving 9000 in six counties,” including North Iredell. That electrical plug really knows how to swing on that banjo.

The 1964 program also included a list of the the performers from 1963, including Bascombe Lunsford, the Mountain Ramblers from Galax, Jim Craver, The Blue Sky Boys, J. E. Mainer, Grandma Pearly Davis, and more. See the full line up below. The 2015 festival is coming up May 22-24 in Union Grove, NC. For more information about the Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention and Fiddlers’ Grove Campground, visit the Southern Folklife Collection at the 4th floor reading room in The Wilson Library.

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Cabin fever Friday at the Southern Folklife Collection

 Paul Clayton and others, playing a folk game or making a diorama, or something on a floor 20239_pf0058_01_0044_Ron Cohen Colleciton_Southern Folklife Collection _UNC Chapel Hill20239_pf0064_05_0006_20239_pf0058_01_0039_Ron Cohen Colleciton_Southern Folklife Collection _UNC Chapel HillIt’s not Boston, but here in North Carolina we’ve had an unexpected, late winter, one-two punch the past couple of weeks with ice and snow. The amount of school and work that has been cancelled has certainly fueled some cabin fever creativity in our own households, but not sure if anyone has gone so far as Paul Clayton, Bob Brill, Dave van Ronk, Lee Hoffman, and their friends did at this party in New York circa 1959. We’re really not sure what’s going in these images–a game, a collaborative sculpture, a ceremonial practice, building a diorama? Let us know if you have any ideas. All images in this post were photographed by Ray Sullivan, a partner in Photo-Sound Associates along with photographer Aaron Rennert and sound-recordist Joel Katz, a team dedicated to documenting the folk scene in New York City in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Over 4000 images from the Photo-Sound Associates have been digitized and can be viewed through Ron Cohen Collection (20239) finding aid via the Southern Folklife Collection.

Lee Hoffman_20239_pf0058_01_0039_Ron Cohen Colleciton_Southern Folklife Collection _UNC Chapel HillNo matter what’s going on, it looks pretty fun. And Bob Brill is providing musical accompaniment on the kazumpet while Dave van Ronk and Paul Clayton harmonize accompaniment. We hope you had at least as much fun during your last “weather event.” Looking forward to Spring!Paul Clayton watching Bob Brill play kazumpet_20239_pf0058_01_0029_Ron Cohen Collection_Southern FOlklife Collection_UNC Chapel HillDave Van Ronk and Paul Clayton_20239_pf0058_01_0038_Ron Cohen Collection_Southern Folklife Collection_UNC Chapel Hill

 

Songs from Limestone Country

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We came across an interesting bit of American industrial history in a recent 78rpm cataloging session in the Southern Folklife Collection: a circa 1948 record promoting the Indiana Limestone Company, featuring on its label a relatively complex illustration of the limestone mining process. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Indiana’s limestone industry, it includes two songs honoring the state’s favorite sedimentary rock : “Old Limestone Quarry” and “Girl from Oolitic.” (Oolitic is a town in Indiana known for its oolite, a kind of limestone).

We cannot find any information on this release, except that John H. McGee applied for copyright for the two songs in 1949.

We’ve included an excerpt from Side A here, which features an unknown vocalist and big band:

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The record is available at the SFC as call no. 78-17816.

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