Songs from Limestone Country


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.


Music Biographer Barry Mazor and Musician Dom Flemons at Wilson Library Feb. 6


Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music

Friday, Feb. 6, 2015
Wilson Special Collections Library
Pleasants Family Assembly Room
5:30 p.m. Reception (program will begin at 6 p.m.)
6 p.m. Book Talk by Barry Mazor
7 p.m. Concert by Dom Flemons
Free and open to the public
Information: Liza Terll, Friends of the Library,
(919) 548-1203


Music scout, record producer, and industry visionary Ralph Peer helped shape and popularize American country and roots music from the 1920s through the ’40s. On Feb. 6, at 6 p.m., a new biography of Peer will be the topic of a talk by the author, Barry Mazor, at UNC’s Wilson Special Collections Library. A concert by musician Dom Flemons will follow at 7 p.m.

The Southern Folklife Collection (SFC) in Wilson Library is the program sponsor. Mazor and Flemons have both conducted extensive research in the Collection and are friends with one another, said SFC curator Steve Weiss.

Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music was released in November to critical acclaim. The New York Times called it “a beautifully written portrait of an utterly fascinating man. One is continually astonished at how a shipping clerk from Independence, Mo., at various junctions in his life, made decisions that transformed American music by bringing new artists and forms of music — from country, blues and bluegrass to early rock ‘n’ roll — to millions of citizens who had not yet encountered them.”

Peer’s accomplishments include sparking the blues craze by recording Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues;” discovering the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers; and helping transform popular music well through the postwar years.

In the stacks of the SFC, Mazor — a winner of the 2008 Charlie Lamb Award for Excellence in Country Music Journalism — was able to draw on a unique recorded interview with Ralph Peer, as well as correspondence between Peer and musician Sara Carter of The Carter Family, found in the SFC’s Ed Kahn Collection. Those letters will be on display at the event.

Flemons_333Flemons, too, has deep ties to the SFC. In 2012, the Grammy-winning banjo player and former member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops described in an interview how video recordings and interviews in the Collection have informed his work. “There is something that a visual artifact can do that is greater than a mere recording,” he said. “You get to see the player and performer in the flesh and see how they played the music.”

The Dom Flemons Papers, 2004-2009, are part of the Southern Folklife Collection, and consist of audio and video recordings, photographs, programs, and related materials that Flemons has donated. Approximately 200 photographs from the collection, including publicity stills of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, may be viewed online, via the UNC Library’s Carolina Digital Repository.

Etta Baker at home

0009_pf0003_0001_Etta_Baker_Mike Seeger Collection_Southern Folklife Collection_The Wilson Library_UNC_Chapel Hill

Beautiful portrait of Etta Baker at her home in Morganton, North Carolina by Mike Seeger. P20009_0003 in the Mike Seeger Collection (20009).

If you have not yet had the opportunity to hear Mrs. Baker’s music, we highly recommend you remedy that as quickly as possible. There are ample opportunities here at Wilson Library and we welcome you to visit for some research, but until then here is an interview with Etta Baker by David Holt (whose papers are also at the Southern Folklife Collection). And if that’s not enough, our friends at the Music Maker Relief Foundation released a few albums by this North Carolina and national treasure (including a remarkable disc with Etta Baker and Taj Mahal).

Little Jimmy Dickens, 1920-2015

Little Jimmy Dickens, portrait, 20001_pf0566_0001, John Edwards Memorial Foundation Records (20001), Southern Folklife Collection, The Wilson Library, UNC Chapel HillLittle Jimmy Dickens in one of his trademark suits, image from the John Edwards Memorial Foundation Records (20001), one of many images of country, folk, and traditional musicians now available for research online. He started as a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1948 and became a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983. At the time of his death, he was the oldest living member of the Grand Ole Opry. Dickens passed away in Nashville on January 2, 2015.

Nice boots, Tater, nice boots.

SFC Humanities Advisory Meeting

photo 1On November 17th, the SFC arranged a humanities advisory group meeting as part of the Extending the Reach of Southern Audiovisual Sources grant. The group consisted of UNC library staff, university professors, and visiting digital humanities experts, including Nathan Salsburg (Curator of the Alan Lomax Archive), Allen Tullos (Professor of History at Emory University, and co-director of the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship), and Sam Brylawski (Chair of the National Recording Preservation Board for the Library of Congress). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the preservation of, and access to SFC’s large holdings of analog moving image and sound materials.

photo 2The collection amounts to over 250,000 historic sound recordings on a number of at-risk formats, including wax cylinders, Digital Audio Tape (DAT), and lacquer discs. In addition, there are 3,500 video recordings on a variety of formats, and over 8 million feet of film. Over the span of the grant, the core team seeks to revamp workflows, investigate and consider new equipment and facilities, and work towards increased online streaming access in order to make more collections available to researchers, faculty, and students.

Through the coming months we will continue to assess our workflows and carry out conservation and access assessments for SFC collections, while also keeping in mind the invaluable responses and recommendations we received from this humanities advisory group. Expect more updates on our progress to be posted to Field Trip South in 2015.

Gravestones of North Carolina


Excited to share some research from one of my favorite collections in The Wilson Special Collections Library on this All Hallows’ Eve, The M. Ruth Little Stokes Collection (20065). Architectural historian Margaret Ruth Little-Stokes received a Ph.D. in Art History and a minor in Folklore at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1984. She served as principal investigator for the North Carolina Cemetery as Cultural Artifact Project, 1981-1982, an initiative funded by National Endowment for the Humanities and directed by Terry Zug, professor in the Curriculum in Folklore at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The Project was intended to be “the first investigation in the state of historic cemeteries and graveyards as cultural benchmarks with aesthetic characteristics and iconographical content,” and focused on photographic documentation, recording, and cataloging of cemeteries in three counties: Cumberland County, N.C.; Davidson County, N.C.; and New Hanover County, N.C. The intensive survey covered Cumberland, New Hanover, and Davidson counties completely, and Lincoln County, N.C., and Catawba County, N.C., on a selective basis. Other counties were added for comparison. Intended to link demographic and cultural traits with regional practices, one of the Project’s primary focus points was to identify gravemarker artisans and carvers throughout the region and to trace their movements within, and influences over, the carving tradition.20065_M_Ruth_Stokes_004

Included are master cards with cemetery survey information and topographical maps used in the research and identification process. Each master card contains the cemetery name; location; inclusive dates; topography; landscaping; boundaries; marker descriptions and design motifs; an overall site plan; and a brief history, if known.



Curley Parker & the Garvin Brothers on Cozy Records

Cotton Eyed Joe, Curley Parker & the Garvin Bros.Newly cataloged at the SFC is an obscure bluegrass release on Cozy Records by Curley Parker and the Garvin Brothers, call number 78-17403.

Cozy Records was based in Davis, West Virginia and named after a restaurant in nearby Grafton. It was founded by coal miner and minister John Bava, who’d played and sung along with his wife Lucy in a band called the Country Cousins.

In addition to his record label, Bava also started a magazine called Musical Echoes (printing facilities for which sat in a converted chicken coup), and a music publishing company under his own name. It seems that Bava may have used Musical Echoes partly to promote his compositions among musicians who might perform them. For example, in the SFC’s Sheet Music and Song Lyrics collection, we found this copy of Bava’s composition “Upon the Cross of Calvary” which has a red-and-white sticker referring to Musical Echoes as “song book for the entertainer.”

SFC Sheet Music and Song Lyrics Collection #30013, folder 97

SFC Collection 30013, folder 97

The back cover has been addressed and stamped, with Musical Echoes as the return address. At the bottom, the recipient is told to “request Hank the Cowhand of WMMN, Fairmont, W. Va. to sing ‘Would You Care.’” (Hank recorded this song for Cozy as Hank Stanford & the Sagebrush Round-up some time in the early 1950s; the song was written by Bava).

BAVA-SFC004Cozy recorded local, West Virginia-based talent, as well as musicians who appeared regularly on radio but who’d had trouble making inroads with bigger labels. Besides Hank the Cowhand, Cozy artists included Cherokee Sue, Rita Flory, Rex Parker’s Merry Men, Chuck Palmer & the Cornmuffins, and eventually the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers.

Curley Parker and the Garvin Brothers only made one recording for Cozy Records, “My Guiding Star” / “Cotton Eyed Joe”, released in 1950. Originally from Gilmer County, Georgia, Parker is today best known for having played fiddle with the Blue Sky Boys during the 1940s, as well as for the duo he started with Pee Wee Lambert in 1951. In addition to his musical career, Parker also worked as a land surveyor; ultimately, he phased out professional music appearances in order to focus on his “day job.”

Side A, “My Guiding Star,” features singing by Parker and Earnst Garvin in a song about the unexpected death of the narrator’s fiancé. We’ve included an excerpt here:

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Side B, “Cotton Eyed Joe,” is an instrumental, and showcases Parker’s fiddling technique (as well as that of an unnamed banjoist, presumably one of the Garvin Brothers). The virtuosity is especially apparent towards the end when the tempo verges on breakneck.

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It does not appear that the Garvin Brothers have any surviving output beyond this release.

Our copy of the Parker-Garvin Brothers release came from SFC donor Guthrie Meade and was autographed by Parker. In the image below, you can (sort of) see the inscription on the lefthand side of the label: “To Gus, Curley Parker.”

My Guiding Star, Curley Parker & the Garvin Brothers

Thumbs up for Mother Universe, UNC welcomes Lonnie Holley

UNC-Chapel Hill is fortunate to be welcoming performance-, recording-, and visual artist Lonnie Holley to campus from September 29 through October 3, 2014.

On Tuesday, September 30, the Southern Folklife Collection will provide materials for Mr. Holley to engage participants in an interactive, public art-making event at The Wilson Library from 9:30 AM to Noon and from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM.

The SFC also pleased to announce that over 1500 slides documenting Lonnie Holley’s art work are now processed and will soon be available for viewing through the finding aid for the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Photographic Collection (20491). The finding aid currently provides access to the digitized images documenting artists Ronald Lockett and Asberry Davis.

lonnie_holleyOver the last four decades, Lonnie Holley has created countless sculptures, assemblages, and multimedia performances, working primarily with found objects, “scrap,” and recycled materials. Holley is one of several African-American vernacular artists to emerge from the Birmingham-Bessemer area of Alabama in the last quarter of the twentieth century, along with Thornton Dial, Joe Minter, and Ronald Lockett. Although he has recently been featured in the New York Times and the Washington Post, his work has largely lived outside art museums and, therefore, critical reviews.

During his week-long visit to campus, Holley will visit classes in the Departments of Art, Folklore, and American Studies, create new artworks with found and recycled materials, engage in public conversations, and give a musical-spoken word performance.

Public Programs

Monday, 29 September, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Lonnie Holley: The Golden Belt Project
Stop by Room 100 in Building 3 of Golden Belt Studios in Durham and see artist Lonnie Holley making art in collaboration with Golden Belt artists.
The work created will be on view through Friday, 3 October.

Tuesday, 30 September, 9:30 AM – 12:00 PM:
Public art-making with Lonnie Holley in front of Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill
and again from 3:00-5:00 PM, when Holley will complete the project and will be interviewed by Steve Weiss, Curator, Southern Folklife Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill.

Wednesday, 1 October, 5:00-7:30 PM:
Music on the Porch at the Center for the Study of the American South
Lonnie Holley will offer a public musical-spoken word workshop performance, “Thumbs Up For Mother Universe,” on the porch at CSAS. Learn more!

“Thumbs Up for Mother Universe” is made possible by:

NCAC_LogoColor-241x300UNC-Chapel Hill Southern Studies Fund

North Carolina Arts Council

Department of American Studies

Ackland Art Museum

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Cataloger’s Corner: Trumpet Records

Carolina Kings of Harmony, "There's a Narrow Path to Heaven," Trumpet Records TR-207, 1953

Carolina Kings of Harmony, “There’s a Narrow Path to Heaven,” Trumpet Records TR-207, 1953

Newly cataloged at the SFC is a 1953 release by the Carolina Kings of Harmony on Trumpet Records, call no. 78-16736. Trumpet Records was based at 309 N. Farish Street in Jackson, Mississippi, at a combined furniture and record store in one of the city’s African American commercial districts. When Lillian McMurry and her husband (both white) first moved into the space, Lillian found some 78rpm R&B records that the previous tenant had left behind. Upon listening to the records, she fell in love with the sound and decided to sell recordings by black artists out of the store. She also attended blues and gospel performances by touring musicians at the Alamo Theater down the street and got the idea to start her own label featuring those genres.

Photo of Lillian McMurry, undated. From the William R. Ferris Collection, 1910s-2011, Folder PF-20367/978.

Photo of Lillian McMurry, undated. From the William R. Ferris Collection, 1910s-2011, Folder PF-20367/978.

In the summer of 1950, Lillian established her label as the Diamond Record Company—and then learned that Diamond was already in use as a record label name. Since she planned to record music with a spiritual theme, she chose Trumpet Records as a second option—“trumpet” referring to the angel Gabriel’s signature instrument. Lillian searched for talent at the Alamo, in her shop’s listening booths (where customers often sang along to the records), and through word-of-mouth. When she heard about vocalist and harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson II, she canvassed the area until she found him. Sonny Boy went on to record a number of songs for Trumpet between 1951-1955 before signing to Chess Records. According to Marc Ryan in his book on Trumpet Records, Sonny Boy had such respect for Lillian that he observed her requests to leave all weapons outside the recording studio, as well as to stop all foul language on the Trumpet premises.

The Carolina Kings of Harmony met Lillian and signed a contract with Trumpet after a tour stop in Jackson. Consisting of lead singer Weldon Gill (who also ran a diner in Lewisburg, NC), along with William Battle, T.D. Jones, Vernon Joyner, Bennie Ruffin, Paul Cooley, the group recorded four sides in April 1953 in Raleigh, NC. Dubs of the recordings were then sent on to the Audio Company of America in Texas for mastering. Two of the tracks, “Going On Home to Glory” and “There’s a Narrow Path to Heaven” were released as Trumpet 207; the other 2 were not released until the 1994 Alligator Records compilation, In the Spirit: The Gospel and Jubilee Recordings of Trumpet Records.

We’ve included an excerpt from “There’s a Narrow Path to Heaven” here:

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Though Trumpet Records only lasted until 1955 (partly because there was so much competition in the Southern gospel and blues market at the time), it has since become known as the first nationally known Mississippi-based label. Additionally, Lillian McMurry is now recognized as a key figure in the birth of American rock ‘n’ roll and as someone who resisted racial segregation of 1950s Mississippi. In 1998 she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Her papers, including significant documentation of Trumpet Records, are available for research at University of Mississippi’s Special Collections.


Southern Folklife Collection 25th anniversaryIn just over one month, Southern Folklife Collection will celebrate our 25th Anniversary, August 21-August 23. As one of the nation’s foremost archives of Southern vernacular music, art, and culture, available for research in the University’s Wilson Special Collections Library, the Southern Folklife Collection is honored to had the opportunity to serve as an educational resource, an archive dedicated to collecting and preserving cultural heritage, and a focal point for the public appreciation of Southern art forms for 25 years.

Since its opening in 1989, the SFC has grown to contain over half a million items including sound recordings, moving images, photographs, manuscripts, books, song folios, serials, posters and ephemera. The Collection is especially rich in materials documenting old-time, country-western, bluegrass, blues, folk, gospel, rock, Cajun and zydeco music. The SFC holds numerous recordings on the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, including Dolly Parton’s first recording “Puppy Love.”

As part of the Southern Folklife Festival, we are presenting a number of events. You can visit our event website, for more details, and come back to Field Trip South where we’ll highlight the our programs over the coming weeks.

August 21-23 is going to be a really good time to be in Chapel Hill.


A benefit reception, dinner and concert (5:45pm, 8/21)
New Orleans Brass Band Symposium (5pm, 8/22)
Rebirth Brass Band and Dumpstaphunk (8pm, 8/22)
Big Star’s #1 Record and Third/Sister Lovers (9pm, 8/22)
SFC25 Festival at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, NC (1-4pm 8/23)
Merle Haggard and Tift Merritt (8pm, 8/23)
A retrospective SFC25 Exhibit (8/21/14 – 1/15/15)

We hope you can join us!