One "golden roll"

From Elizabeth: Allow me to introduce our summer student assistant, David Meincke, the author of this post. David grew up in the small town of Hebron, Connecticut, received his BA in English from the College of William and Mary in May of 2007, and began the Masters of Library Science program here at UNC’s School of Information and Library Science (“SILS”) this summer. Since he came in with experience digitizing film, slides and photographs, we put him to work at the HR Universal Film Scanner. He surfaced from his cave long enough to write the following. Note: I suspect the images below were taken at “Singing on the Mountain.”

This is my first post on the Hugh Morton blog—up until now my work on the project has mainly been spent in a dark room with a high-powered scanner the size and shape of a Galapagos tortoise. I spend most of my time digitizing film negatives, the majority of them black and white, from various stages of Hugh Morton’s life and career.
I’ve grown accustomed to watching faces, bodies, rivers, lakes, arenas and street corners fly by on the monitor before me. The number of images in the collection is the hundreds of thousands, and it is difficult to retain anything of the image beyond the few seconds it lingers on my screen before it is sealed away on a hard drive somewhere. Occasionally, however, a “golden roll” falls out of the slim acid-free envelope, and it, for some reason, creates such a vivid impression that I have to study, stare, and tell others about it.
These pictures were taken at an event that seems to be a cross between a religious revival and a country music jamboree: an accordionist, banjo player, and a few guitarists play, while the crowd assembled around them raise their hands in exultation (and in one woman’s case, what appears to be religious ecstasy). I wonder, do any of these faces look familiar to you?

Here a boy stands, surrounded by motherly figures, and only his head is visible amid the confusion of blouses, as if he were coming up for air. Despite the crowd around him, though, he has a serene look, and his face is the only one in sharp focus as he stares into the camera.

The picture that initially caught my attention was the one below, a man with bright sunlight coming in behind him that provides a nice contrast to the picture without obscuring any details. In addition to the nice dynamism of light in the picture, I appreciate the drama that is contained in his face: his eyes, downcast and to the side, make it seem as if he’s slightly removed from the revelry around him, and the blur that envelops those around him further emphasizes his aloofness.

Before I continued the next roll of film, I wondered what the people within these photographs, especially this last one, were thinking. Had the music transported him to a different place? Were existential doubts plaguing him? Or was he considering what to have for dinner that night?
Thank you very much, and I hope you enjoyed these photographs too.
David Meincke
UPDATE 8/13/08 from Elizabeth: See the comments on this post for a discussion of whether the above photos might have been taken at “Singing on the Mountain.” Here’s a shot that shows performers in a tent-like enclosure, and that was taken at the Sing (according to Morton’s caption on the envelope). That caption is provided below.
Grandfather Mountain, Linville, NC, circa 1957

Bascom Lamar Lunsford, known as “Minstrel of the Appalachians,” is one of America’s foremost authorities on the folk music of the Southern mountains, shown here singing with Miss Freida English. Lunceford [sic] is from South Turkey Creek, NC. All songs at “Singing on the Mountain” are religious, but Lunceford [sic] is famous for “Good Old Mountain Dew” and other songs which he wrote.

12 thoughts on “One "golden roll"”

  1. David:
    Very interesting post. Looking at the three images that you have selected, brings to mind a question. Is there, or has there ever been, an enclosure (like maybe a tent) where the “Singing On The Mountain” could be held?
    In image #1 there looks like some kind of ceiling above the accordion player’s head. In image #2 there appears to be a framed in area of some sort behind the women. And in image #3, as you point out David, there is a shaft of light coming in through an opening of some kind.
    I don’t recall (until today) seeing any Morton pictures from “Singing On The Mountain” that were not outdoors. In fact on page 150 of Hugh’s 2006 book, “Hugh Morton, North Carolina Photographer,” there is a picture from the 2005 event with Boots Randolph playing in the pouring rain.
    David I’m glad to see that you are a member of the Fletcher/Hull Morton photo team. I think Hugh would be impressed with the high tech skills that you guys are bringing to this project.

  2. These photos could have been taken at a Mountain Music Festival in Asheville. We have photos from these events for 1938 through the ’40’s in our Conservation and Development Department, Travel and Tourism Division photo files here at the State Archives. In some of these photos I remember there can be seen some wooden staging structures…

  3. Interesting. I know I’ve seen other images of the accordion-playing gentleman that were definitely taken at Singing on the Mountain. And there are other early “Sing” photos with musicians playing on a wooden stage-like structure with some kind of tarp over it. I’ve inserted one into the post…

  4. My great grandmother, Pearl Hartley Lyons is the woman in the picture with the “boy surrounded by motherly figures.” It is so awesome to see her photo on here. She passed away is 2001 and she meant so much to me. She was the daughter of Joe Hartley the founder of the Singing on the Mountain. So that could be where that photo was taken.

  5. I showed the picture to my mom and she said the boy is her cousin, Billy, Pearl’s grandson, and Joe Hartley’s great grandson.

  6. Carla,
    I’m really glad you were able to come across this post. It must have been a real surprise.
    Thanks for commenting, too, and identifying your great grandmother and your mother’s cousin. It’s always neat to see ways in which these film negatives I scan can relate to the present day.
    I think, given the association between Hugh Morton and Joe Hartley, there should be some more photos of your relatives. If I come across any good ones, I’ll try to put them up!
    Thanks again,

  7. Thank you, David, for sharing these wonderful photos and your talent for writing. I looked at all the photos before reading the captions and I came to a halt on #3. As far as I knew, there could have been 20 more pictures to follow, but I sat spellbound by #3. This man shows such presence. His face, the camera, and the photographer came together in one perfect moment and created PURE ART. Jane

  8. Wow! That boy on the second picture is my dad, Bill Hosey. Thank you so much for posting up these pictures for everyone to see. I’ve never been in much contact with that side of my family until here recently, and I never knew that this is where I get my music from (I’m a singer/guitarist as well), so it’s great to be able to kinda tell where all of that comes from!

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