I am a jazz fan, so Hugh Morton’s negatives of jazz musicians have interested me from the first time I saw them. Morton began photographing jazz musicians when he was in high school and he continued throughout his life. Clarinetist and bandleader Benny Goodman was his favorite musician. In 1988 Morton wrote in Making a Difference in North Carolina:
Illustrative of my loyalty to Benny Goodman, I saw him and his band in the ’30s and 40’s in Washington, D. C., Baltimore, Detroit, New York, and Raleigh, and in 1979 in Greensboro and 1983 in Wilmington. Each time I took pictures, and I deeply regret the cameras and film in the early days did not measure up. It was virtually impossible to snap candid shots that are up to today’s standards.
It may be better to contextualize that statement with a bit of clarification. I believe the camera technology was available, but perhaps not to a teenager. In 1937, Leica 35mm cameras had been available since 1925, so I don’t think that cameras were the issue. Morton photographed during this time with a camera that used the 127 film format, which is larger than the 135 format and its film cartridge that came to market in 1934. Black-and-white negative films during that time, however, did not have sufficient light sensitivity (film speed) to capture an image without blurring caused by shaking a hand-held camera set with the slower shutter speeds needed to get a proper exposure. Below is one of Morton’s negatives made at that Washington, D.C. concert . . .
. . . and here’s a cropped portion of the negative that illustrates softness from camera movement. (Look at the “G” on the music stand.)
Until very recently, the location and date Morton made the marquee poster negative was unknown. A project I’m working on brought his jazz negatives to my attention, so I began to sort the Benny Goodman negatives into groups based upon the stage settings. Luckily the marquee poster exposure is on a negative strip that also has an interior view of Goodman performing inside the theatre, so that group of images with the stage seen above formed the Washington batch.
Next I spent some quality evening and weekend time digging around for clues that might lead to more information. For historical information I checked out the Music Library’s copy of Ross Firestone’s biography Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman. (It was also a good excuse to borrow the 2-CD set Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall, 1938to listen to while researching!) But the definitive answer came from the University Libraries’ online catalog access to historical issues of The Washington Post. A search through that newspaper revealed where and when Morton made that group of negatives. The Washington Post column “Nelson B. Bell About The Show Shops” for June 5, 1937 covered Goodman’s gig in an article with a long title that begins, “‘Kid Galahad’ and Benny Goodman Score at the Earle.” A bit more searching through other issues of the newspaper pinpointed that Goodmen and orchestra opened a one-week engagement at the Earle Theatre on June 3, 1937. Bell listed in his review the performers’ names in the exact order they are printed on the marquee poster. His list also revealed the proper spelling of the name Peg LaCentra (not Gentra, as in the poster). Bell also noted that he believed it was Goodman’s “first visit to a Washington stage,” which is very similar to the wording on the poster.
Bell reported, “On the stage at the Earle this week, Benny Goodman and his orchestra are winning an ovation at every performance—and they are being put on so often they must think it is a continuous act they are doing. The Goodman band goes in largely for ‘swing’ rhythms and plays them with a zest that knocked the audience right out of their pews yesterday afternoon.” The performance Bell attended suffered from a loudspeaker failure that prevented him from hearing the performers names as Goodman’s voice only carried to the sixth row and he sat farther back in around the twentieth. The music, however, must have been loud and clear.
Firestone’s biography does not mention the Washington venue; it only states that the band left New York in the beginning of June destined for its third engagement at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles at the end of the month. He noted that “aside from a few theater dates” the month was almost entirely one-nighters spread through Pennsylvania and several midwestern states. Firestone’s book does, however, provide some prior context. On March 3, just three months before the Earle Theatre performances, Goodman’s orchestra started a two-week engagement at the Paramount Theater on Times Square in New York City.
A sold-out crowd saw that opening night’s first performance “and the audience of restless youngsters was in unusually high spirits.” They greeted the orchestra, Firestone recounted, “with an ear-shattering roar of clapping and whistling and stomping and yelling that sounded, Benny remembered, ‘like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.’ ‘It was exciting, [Goodman] recalled, ‘but also a little frightening—scary.'”
Firestone vividly described the band’s performance, then wrote,
It was apparent to everyone . . . that something truly momentous had just taken place, that the Goodman orchestra’s brief forty-three-minute sojourn on the Paramount stage was some kind of breakthrough that topped, and was different from, all its previous successes. What started out as just another stage show had turned into a kind of celebration of the spirit, a love feast of communal frenzy that was, as Variety observed, “tradition-shattering in its spontaneity, its unanimity, its sincerity, its volume, in the childlike violence of its manifestations.”
Firestone then accounts for what he believed was the performance’s “stunningly obvious” cause. “The school kids were among Benny’s most zealous fans, and this was the first chance they had to hear him in person,” he wrote. Goodman’s usual New York venue was The Hotel Pennsylvania, which was “completely beyond the reach of the legions of ordinary youngsters who, up to now, could only listen to Benny on the radio or spring for an occasional record.” A multitude of kids had lined up starting before seven in the morning to buy a twenty-five cent ticket. By the end of the day, the Paramount has sold 21,000 admissions.
The orchestra’s next theater date was at the Metropolitan Theater in Boston in May, and they encountered there the same high-octane enthusiasm as inside the Paramount. The Boston Morning Globe wrote that it seemed like the Metropolitan Theater held “every boy and girl in Greater Boston who could beg a school ‘absent’ excuse from a tolerant parent. Benny Goodman, King of Swing, is in town, which means that the youngsters of the city are in their seventh heaven of rapture. What shrieks of joy as he played ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ in his own swingy rhythms! What yells and whistles and stampings followed Gene Krupa’s drumming exhibitions!”
And so it must have been in the pews of Washington’s Earle Theatre during the first week of June. Nelson Bell concluded his Washington Post review with, “Don’t miss this one.” Sixteen-year-old Hugh Morton did not.
On July 4, 1997, North Carolina lost a talented favorite son when Charles Kuralt died in New York City during the early morning hours. Kuralt is well known for his work in television. He also wrote and co-wrote about a dozen books, including North Carolina is My Home published in 1986. Kuralt described that book as “an adapted and expanded and revised and revamped and amended and improved version of a recording about my home state which I wrote with Loonis McGlohon. I wrote the words, he wrote the music.”
North Carolina is My Home is also the title of their recording.In large type on the back of the record jacket, as if it were the album’s subtitle, Kuralt and McGlohon declared the album as “A 400th Birthday Gift To The Tar Heel State.” Today, on the 31st anniversary of the kickoff of American festivities for the 400th on July 13, 1984, Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard and I join forces to take a look at that special birthday present to the state of North Carolina.
“America’s birthday heartache came because we lost one of our heroes that morning—Charles Kuralt. He was one of us, he believed in us, he loved us. This rumpled genius taught us that grace, humility, and a time for beauty are, like breathing, life’s essentials. And life was a joy to be lived and a story to be told.
“He is gone now, but we will remember our champion of humanity—we will always remember.”
— Dr. William Friday, in Commemorative Edition of North Carolina is My Home
It started with a series of telephone calls in early 1983 when North Carolina governor Jim Hunt was planning for the state’s 400th birthday. Ten years earlier the North Carolina General Assembly created the America’s Four Hundredth Anniversary Committee. Hunt activated the committee in 1978. The governor called lots of Tar Heels seeking input for the birthday celebration. One of those called in 1983 was Charles Kuralt. As Kuralt pondered the governor’s questions he thought about his old friend, Charlotte musician Loonis McGlohon. who had written the theme music for his CBS television program “On The Road with Charles Kuralt.”
Kuralt telephoned McGlohon. Kuralt’s section of the book’s introduction begins, “It happened this way . . .” and in it he recalled their conversation going something like this:
Kuralt: I got a call from the Governor.
McGlohon: I know. So did I.
Kuralt: You got any ideas?
McGlohon: Sure, we’ll make a record. We’ll give it to all the schools and libraries.
Kuralt: But, I can’t sing.
McGlohon: Right, but you can type. Start typing.
Kuralt: What’ll I type about?
McGlohon: The mountains, the shore. Barbecue, moonshine, pine trees, Thomas Wolfe, wild swans, tobacco barns, textile mills, all that stuff. You know.
So Charles Kuralt began typing what would become a masterpiece. The first piece to emerge from his typewriter he titled “Roanoke 1584.” Kuralt sent it on its way to McGlohon in Charlotte. McGlohon recalled in his section of the introduction that, “As soon as I read the first page I grabbed a sheet of manuscript paper and headed for the piano to start writing.” Kuralt noted that from that point forward, he and McGlohon “put the words and music together by letter and by telephone.”
On the record album as published, “Roanoke 1584” is the second track; it begins with music, then Kuralt reads in voice-over:
On a morning in July of the year 1584, two English gentlemen in armor, accompanied by soldiers, well armed, stepped into a small boat from the great ship in which they had crossed the Atlantic. . . . Sunlight flashed from their helmets as their boat was rowed toward shore. . . .
The next piece Kuralt sent to McGlohon was “Backroads and Byways.” McGlohon’s described that piece as “a bigger challenge. When you examine Charles’ text on this piece it becomes apparent how much homework and research he did—matching rhymes and turning up little-known anecdotes about the towns and crossroads which North Carolinians call home.”
It also presented McGlohon with a problem. “Charles, for whatever reason, overlooked my home town, Ayden. When I wrote him, scolding him for the omission, I included my own bit of homework, rhyming Ayden with Badin and Maiden. I will take credit for that one line.”
Badin and Ayden
and Maiden and Wise.
Ranger, Granger, Angier and Spies.
Dallas, Frisco and Providence too.
Now where’s the town that’s home to you.
In an interview shortly before his death, Kuralt said the hardest thing about writing is getting started. With two pieces completed, Kuralt began turning out pages of voice-over text and song lyrics at a rapid rate. During one of their phone conversations, McGlohon told Kuralt, “North Carolina needs a new state song. Nobody can sing the old one. So I’ve written a new one.” He then played it for Kuralt and added, “I’ve got the title: North Carolina is My Home, now you write the rest of the words.” The song became the title track for the album, which both opens (with vocals by Marlene VerPlank, Mary Mayo, and Jim Campbell) and closes the album (as a “vocal reprise”).
When the music and lyrics were complete, McGlohon invited a group of his musician-friends to the Eras Recording Studio in New York. Among the group was conductor–arranger Billy VerPlanck, banjo and guitar artist Eric Weisberg, vocalists Marlene VerPlanck, Mary Mayo, and Jim Campbell, along with a select group from the New York Philharmonic. In total, thirty-five musicians contributed to the project. They recorded their creation between July 16th and 19th, and on the 21st. Additional material was recorded in Charlotte at Reflection Sound Studio.
Piedmont Airlines produced the album and Charles Heatherly was the project coordinator. A Winston-Salem Journal article noted that Charles Heatherly, Director of Travel and Tourism for North Carolina, made the connection with Piedmont Aviation, Inc. in early 1984. According to an article Heatherly wrote for the November 1985 issue of The State, Piedmont Airlines funded about $40,000 for the album’s production.
Kuralt and McGlohon finished their masterpiece in time to fall within the state’s official 400th birthday celebration, which lasted from April 27, 1984 to August 18, 1987. These dates were the 400th anniversaries of the departure of Philip Amandas and Arthur Barlowe Expedition from Plymouth, England and the birth of Virginia Dare. The album was not, however, an official publication of America’s Fourth Hundredth Anniversary Committee.
Two newspapers articles printed on Monday, October 7th state the album had its debut on Sunday, October 6th with a live performance at the Stevens Center at the University of North Carolina School for the Arts in Winston-Salem. In a Winston-Salem Journal article, Kuralt recalled another snippet from one of his early conversations with McGlohon about their project:
Finally Loonis said, “What we’ll do, we’ll make an album and give it to all the school kids and all the libraries in the state,” and I said, “We will, will we?”
The Burlington Daily Times article was actually about the naming of Howard Cosell to the North Carolina Broadcasters Hall of Fame later that evening, but it included mention of the Kuralt/McGlohon performance. (Morton’s 1985 planner includes both events.) The album cover features a Hugh Morton photograph, so it comes as no surprise that Hugh Morton was there for both events. There are three 120-format color negatives of this autumn scene in the Morton collection, but negative used for the album cover is not extant. Both articles also indicate that the distribution to schools and libraries across the state would be forthcoming.
Here’s the album’s playlist:
North Carolina Is My Home generated interest beyond turntables. According to McGlohon, “Someone, listening to the album for the first time, said “These words from Charles Kuralt should be in a book to be read and enjoyed over and over.” McGlohon thought was “a fine suggestion.” In 1986 East Woods Press in Charlotte published a book with Kuralt’s magnificent lyrics. Eleven of the book’s approximately seventy-five photographs (it depends on how you count them!) are by Hugh Morton—including a variant view of the scene used on the album cover, but the image is laterally reversed. (It’s still a classic). Again, mysteriously, this negative is not in the Morton collection.
Then someone suggested taking the group on the road. Kuralt could certainly identify with that since he had been on the road for CBS News since 1967. A third printing of the book with a slightly different hard cover fabric in June 1987 also saw the publisher change to The Globe Pequot Press located in Chester, Connecticut. The copyright, however, remained with Fast & MacMillan Publishers. This printing may likely coincided with book sales at live performances.
The road tour continued with an early 1987 stop at Wright Auditorium on the East Carolina University campus in Greenville. This concert was unique, because WUNC-TV brought in their TV cameras and videotaped the proceeding, as the East Carolina Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Robert Hause, provided the musical background for Charles, Loonis, and singers. A performance at Memorial Hall Auditorium at UNC on January 23rd served as a fundraiser for an endowed chair named in honor of Kuralt’s father, Wallace, in the School of Social Work.
The tour rolled into Greensboro on May 28, 1987. The historic Carolina Theater was the venue and on this evening Steven Karidoyanes and the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra performed with the featured players. Master of Ceremonies for the evening was my dear friend and executive producer at WFMY-TV, Lee Kinard. In the afternoon, Kuralt had stopped by the TV station and taped a lengthy interview with Kinard for his morning program.
In a June 14, 1987 interview in the News and Observer, Kuralt recounted that they made the album “for school children, and I keep emphasizing it’s not a very sophisticated piece of work, but gosh there’s demand for it. God help us, we’ve done it in Chicago, and we’re going to do it in Vancouver and London in December. That’s Piedmont Airlines doing that. They’ve started flying to London so they’re trying to drum up interest in North Carolina amongst the British. I don’t know who’s going to come to it, but we’re going to do it in December.”
As the tour continued, there were stops in Arizona, New York, and other stops up and down the East Coast. The two performances in London were held at the American Embassy on November 25, 1987 and once again Hugh Morton was there. The tour count was more than fifty.
In late 1991, the North Carolina Public Television Foundation produced a video of North Carolina is My Home. Hugh Morton helped the production team select scenes for the production which was offered on the market just before Christmas. Loonis and Charles appeared on a special edition of North Carolina People with William Friday taped at the Friday Center for Continuing Education on the UNC campus. They promoted the tape . . . proceeds went to public television.
A month before his death, Belmont Abbey College honored Kuralt and McGlohon with honorary degrees. It was about this same time that the two performed “North Carolina is My Home” for the final time…a performance with the Charlotte Symphony. The backstage crew knew that something was wrong…the audience never suspected there was a problem.
Then, on July 4, 1997, came the sad news that Charles Kuralt had lost his battle with lupus. Four days after Kuralt’s death, WUNC-TV carried live the memorial celebration of his life. At the service, UNC Chancellor Michael Hooker, former governor Jim Hunt, television personality Charlie Rose, Hugh Morton, and former UNC presidents William Friday and C.D.Spangler, Jr. celebrated their friendships with Charles Kuralt.
The North Carolina Symphony’s Brass Ensemble played the theme from “North Carolina is My Home,” and Loonis McGlohon played the music track to the “The Farmer” segment, the one he called his favorite.
Following the presentation from UNC’s Memorial Hall, the station aired an encore videotape performance of “North Carolina is My Home.”
In 1998 The Globe Pequot Press published a commemorative edition of its 1986 book North Carolina is My Home with remembrances from Charles Kuralt’s friends and colleagues.
As we wrapped up this piece Jack Hilliard wrote in an email to me, “As I look back on what we have done, it’s ironic that we handled this post much like the way Charles and Loonis handled their effort: I sent you something . . . you added to it and sent it back . . . etc.” Nice observation, Jack. We hope our readers enjoy this post!
Arthur Smith passed away one year ago today. At the time, I hurriedly started a V2H blog post to mark the occasion. As I worked on it I kept finding more and more interesting material . . . and April 3rd slipped farther and farther into the distance before I just could wrap it up. It’s been sitting in the unpublished drafts section of the blog ever since. Then a week or so ago, volunteer Jack Hilliard sent me post about Arthur Smith for use today. After I finished working on Jack’s piece I dusted off this post, cleaned it up, and published it today even though it could use some more work. The result? A twin bill! This post is mine; the “special connection” post is Jack’s. We hope you enjoy today’s double feature.
For many, if not most, Arthur Smith may not be a household name. Have you seen Deliverance—or played an “air banjo” version of the well-known version called “Dueling Banjos” from the memorable scene in that 1972 movie? If so, then you have a piece of Arthur Smith in the fiber of your being because Smith is the original writer of that song, which he played and recorded with Don Reno as “Fuedin’ Banjos” in 1955.
Arthur Smith was born in Clinton, South Carolina in 1921. The 1930 United States Census enumerated his family in Flat Creek Township in Lancaster County on April 4th, just a few days after Arthur’s 9th birthday. He is the son of Clayton S. Smith and his wife Viola Fields, both North Carolinians by birth. In the 1930 census Arthur had two older and two younger siblings: Ethel, age 13; Oscar, 9; Ruby, 7; and Ralph, 6. Clayton’s occupation is listed as a weaver in a cotton mill.
The most likely matching “Arthur Smith” in the 1940 census shows Arthur as one of three lodgers at home of what looks like Dixon G. and Sybil Stewart (the census taker’s handwriting is difficult to read) at 442 Kennedy Street in Spartanburg, S.C. Stewart and the lodgers all have their occupation listed as “Advertise” and written (again hard to decipher) in the Industry column is “Radio” and what looks like “Vine Herb.” This is a nugget for a future researcher to resolve.
Arthur Smith was already an accomplished musician well before “Fuedin’ Banjos.” When Smith was in eighth grade, he and brothers Ralph and Sonny formed a Dixieland jazz band called The Arthur Smith Quartet. At the beginning their financial prospects were bleak. Smith said during an interview with Don Rhodes for his article “Arthur Smith: a Wide & Varied Musical Career” in the July 1977 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited,
We nearly starved to death until one day we changed our style. We had been doing a daily radio show in Spartanburg, South Carolina, as the “Arthur Smith Quartet.” One Friday morning we threw down our trumpet, clarinet, and trombone and picked up the fiddle, accordion, and guitar. The next Monday we came back on the radio program as “Arthur Smith and the Carolina Crackerjacks.” My brother, Sonny, came up with the name. The Carolina was because we were from South Carolina, and the Crackerjack part came when Sonny found that the word according to the dictionary meant one who is tops in his field.
This would probably be as good a place as any in this story to state that there is no definitive biography Arthur Smith, and much of what is on the Internet or in print is anecdotal, sketchy or brief, and with a fair amount of rehashing of what someone else had already written. Pulling this post together has been a bit of a challenge, so please leave a comment with corrections or clarifications.
When Arthur Smith was in tenth grade, the group made their first recording during a field recording session for RCA Victor in 1938. According to one discography, the recording date was 26 September 1938 at the Andrew Jackson Hotel in Rock Hill, S. C. Smith recalled in the booklet The Charlotte Country Music Story, that their best song from that session was “Going Back to Old Carolina” (Bluebird Records recording B-8304).
Smith must have paid attention to the school books, too, because he was the class’s valedictorian. Smith had an opportunity to attend the United States Naval Academy after graduation, but he declined because he knew he wanted to be a musician.
The band’s success grew and at some point in time, possibly 1941, Smith moved to Charlotte when he and the Crackerjacks became regularly featured on WBT’s country music radio programs, among them probably Carolina Barndance.
As with most born in this era, however, WWII brought disruption and the Crackerjacks disbanded. All three brothers served in the military, Arthur Smith in the Navy. He played in his military band, and it was there that he wrote “Guitar Boogie,” his breakthrough recording that sold more than a million copies in 1945. After the war, the Smith revived the Crackerjacks.
I’ve not found mention of how Hugh Morton and Arthur Smith met, but I hope those that might know will comment below. Morton photographed Smith with and without the Cracker-Jacks (that variant spelling, with and without a hyphen, was often used) on several occasions over many years. Both were born in 1921, and both served in the military during World War II; Morton as a photographer and cameraman in the United States Army 161st Signal Corps, Smith in the United States Navy. The photograph at the top of this post dates from 1952, used to promote the Azelea Festival in Wilmington that year.
Smith and Morton may have met earlier, however, at Singing at the Mountain in 1950. In his book with Edward Rankin, Making a Difference in North Carolina, published in 1988, Hugh Morton recalled that it was around 1950 that Singing on the Mountain had a “big boost” in attendance. Singing’s co-founder Joe L. Hartley soon thereafter gave Smith the designation “Music Master” for the annual event because Smith “played a major role in inviting other outstanding musical groups.” Singing on the Mountain was already growing crowds prior to 1950. A brief article about the 1949 “Singing” published in the Watauga Democrat noted that 25,000 people had attended, the largest crowd to date. The following year, an article in the 29 June 1950 issue of the Wautaga Democrat about that year’s singing described the previous Sunday’s event: “One of the musical highlights during the beautiful summer day was provided by Hillbilly Headliner Arthur Smith and his Crackerjacks from Columbia Broadcasting System and Radio Station WBT, Charlotte. . . . Highway patrolmen reported that during one period around noon, the highways leading to this convention were crowded by cars bumper to bumper, stretching four miles in one direction and three in the other.”
Morton wrote in Sixty Years with a Camera,
Arthur Smith is one of my dear friends, and for thirty consecutive years he was the singing master for “Singing on the Mountain” at Grandfather. He of course wrote the Number 1 banjo song in the world, “Duelling Banjos,” [sic] and the Number 1 guitar piece “Guitar Boogie.” He is also a very religious man, and he plugged the daylights out of the “Singing” and brought big crowds. Mr. Joe Hartley, the founder and chairman of the annual event, thought that his homemade sign out on the highway attracted the people. He never did understand that Arthur Smith’s promotion of the program on television was the reason for the huge crowds.
The next two photographs below may not have been published before this post.
Hugh Morton photographed Smith on numerous occasions, including many made for record album dust jackets. Notice the photography credit for Hugh Morton on back of the following album’s cover . . .
Hugh Morton may be the photographer for Smith’s LP album The Guitars of “Guitar Boogie” Smith published by Starday Records in 1968. There is a 4″ x 5″ color transparency in the Morton collection that is an extremely similar pose to that on the album. Smith moved his hands slightly but his facial expression looks to be identical. I prefer the hand positioning in the one not used on the cover because his right hand is concealed.
Interestingly, CMT used a tightly cropped pose from this sitting in its obituary of Smith. The image source is Getty Images.
There’s a lot more Arthur Smith images to parse through in the Morton Collection, more than can be featured in this post. Needless to say, when someone writes the definitive biography of Arthur Smith. the Hugh Morton collection is a “go to” collection for visual research.
ANY RELATION? The 1940 United States Census enumerated a James Arthur Smith, age ten months, living with his family on Florida Street in Clinton, Laurens County, South Carolina. James Arthur was the second son of Broadus E. and Annie Mae Smith. He had an older brother Edward, age 4 years old. The census taker’s handwriting for his father’s name is hard to decipher, but a Google search revealed a Broadus E. Smith who wrote four church hymns. Is this is likely connection. Broadus’s occupation is listed as a carpenter in the building construction industry.
Legendary, inimitable, iconic . . . Today will be a day filled with adjectives as people describe guitarist Doc Watson, born eighty nine years ago in Deep Gap, North Carolina. Watson passed away yesterday in a Winston-Salem hospital.
Hugh Morton’s photograph above of Doc Watson, seated, and Jack Williams in 1953 appears in his book Hugh Morton’s North Carolina with a caption stating that Watson and Williams “were members of a band that played for small dances and family gatherings . . .” That caption is all we know about this photograph. Morton made this photograph very early in Watson’s career—the year Watson and Williams first met, eleven years before Watson’s first recording.
The original 35mm slide or a color negative has not turned up in processing the Morton collection. There is, however, an inkjet print and the low resolution digital file within a PowerPoint presentation shown here, in the unprocessed files of non-original items. Morton’s portrait of Watson playing a guitar in front of a woodpile, published in Making a Difference in North Carolina, has also not surfaced. To date, fifteen photographs of Doc Watson can bee seen in the online collection.
Here’s a newly identified photograph of John D. Loudermilk (also known back then as “Johnny Dee”) performing on a stage with three band members. This image likely got passed over for scanning when processing the Morton collection because, as you can see in the scan, the negative is a double exposure—albeit very lightly so.
I’m researching images for an upcoming exhibit called “Curating Sound” and I scanned the unidentified negative just to see what was depicted. The photograph probably won’t be in the exhibit, but I wanted to share it here because it probably hasn’t seen the light of day before now.
Can anyone venture a guess on the date, venue, or some identify the band members? You can’t tell from the scan as it’s sized for this blog post, but John is playing a Gagliano acoustic guitar, and the guitarist on the left is playing a Gretsch electric. Does that information help to date the image? John are you still reading along out there?
This past Sunday, the joyful hordes descended on MacRae Meadows at the base of Grandfather Mountain for the “Singing on the Mountain” gospel festival, just as they have done every year since 1925. If you read this blog, you know that we’re all big fans of Hugh Morton’s evocative photographs of the “Sing” throughout the years. From the wonderfully-bearded Shelby Ever Gragg, to George Pegram, Johnny Cash, “Happy John” Coffey, Robert Harris, Jerry Falwell . . . they’ve all been to the Sing, and Hugh Morton was there to photograph them.
For more information on the Sing (and some choice quotes, such as the title of this post), please have a look at our latest WORTH 1,000 WORDS essay by authors DAVE HANEY andLISA BALDWIN entitled The Singing on the Mountain. Haney and Baldwin (recent exports from Appalachian State University to the faraway lands of Black Hills, South Dakota), offer unique interest in and perspective on the topic as traditional musicians themselves. Enjoy!
It’s been well established on this blog that Hugh Morton was a huge music fan, and there are many images in the collection that relate to music, musicians, and music history: swing, jazz, gospel, folk, and other traditional music from a variety of traditions. Continuing in this series of entries, I would like to present the Durham-born musician John D. Loudermilk.
The cousin of Ira and Charlie Loudermilk (better known as the Louvin Brothers), John Loudermilk was born in Durham, NC in 1934. Also known as “Johnny Dee” and, occasionally, “Ebe Sneezer” (of Ebe Sneezer and the Epidemics), Loudermilk has been involved with music as a singer, songwriter, and ethnomusicologist. He has written and performed within the context of several genres, including 1950s teen rock and roll, blues, and country music (a biography on CMT.com calls him “incredibly erratic” and “one of the weirdest figures of early rock & roll,” in part due to his ability to evade classification).
Our fellow Wilson Library occupant, the Southern Folklife Collection, holds the definitive John D. Loudermilk Collection of sheet music, correspondence, memorabilia, recordings, and other materials. They kindly provided us with an audio clip of “Tobacco Road,” below. As CMT.com says of the song, “if he’d written nothing else, Loudermilk would have been worth a footnote in any history of popular music.” Recorded in 1960 as a folk song, it soon became a cross-genre favorite, performed by such disparate acts as The Nashville Teens, Jefferson Airplane, David Lee Roth, and Eric Burdon & War.
Wilson Library is becoming a very bloggy building! The latest addition, Field Trip South, comes from the Southern Folklife Collection up on the 4th floor. This blog will be a resource for readers to learn more about the holdings of the SFC, find out about those great SFC concerts and events, and to enjoy some of the sights and sounds of the collection. FTS joins a growing list of Wilson Library blogs. (Warning: I hope you have a few hours to spare if you plan on browsing the list below).
North Carolina Miscellany — Blog of the North Carolina Collection, the state’s premier collection of published materials documenting the history, literature, and culture of the Tar Heel state. Includes regular posts discussing new and upcoming books on North Carolina topics, state history in the news, treasures from the stacks of the North Carolina Collection, and general “Tar Heelia.”
As I pick my way through images in the disturbingly large “People, Unidentified” pile, I find myself particularly troubled by the portraits of traditional musicians who remain nameless. Maybe it’s because I’m a musician myself, or because I know that these images may document little-known players — at any rate, this is where you, dear readers, come in. What can you tell us about the people shown below?
I have a feeling the woodcarver on the left must be a well-known individual. I’ve certainly seen his work before, but I don’t know his name. As for the banjo player on the right, the only clue I can offer is that his banjo is autographed by Roni Stoneman, of Hee-Haw fame.
Here’s a very well-dressed gentleman playing a dulcimer with a turkey feather, as per Appalachian Mountain tradition . . .
And another dulcimer player, not quite so well-dressed, sitting on a split rail fence with Grandfather Mountain behind him (not visible in this shot). This man’s dulcimer is a real work of art — hand painted with birds, flowers, and the letters “N, M, P,” and with hand carved pegs also in the shape of flowers (I think these are dogwoods, the North Carolina state flower) and birds (cardinals, the North Carolina state bird).
I’m uncertain as to whether the fiddler below might be Roby Coffey, brother of previously-blogged-about “Happy John” Coffey, or Shoner Benfield, previously identified in a “Singing on the Mountain” image. I’m leaning towards Benfield. But what about the young guitar player? (Apologies for the streak partially obscuring his face).
And finally, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite images of “Happy John” and his compatriots at “Singing on the Mountain.” Is that Roby to the right of Happy John? Does anyone know these other characters? UPDATE 6/10/09: Many, many thanks to the commenters who have identified nearly all of the individuals above: Tom Wolfe and Floyd Gragg, Shoner Benfield and Randall Calloway, Edd Presnell. Only turkey feather man remains a mystery.
Now that we know Edd Presnell‘s name, we can find several resources having to do with him and his wife Nettie: 1) Nettie was featured on the poplar CD Appalachian Breakdown; you can hear brief clips of her playing on Amazon; 2) Edd was featured on UNC-TV’s Folkways program (the audio link on this page doesn’t work); 3) Both Edd and Nettie were interviewed in 1984 as part of the Southern Oral History Program (no transcript or audio available online, unfortunately).
We’ve written only two posts so far about Hugh Morton’s jazz photographs, so it seemed like a good time for another post. Here goes . . . and if you promise not to bust your conk, I’ll promise not to beat up my chops!
Among the unidentified jazz negatives are three that I suspected from the music stands (and later confirmed) are from a Cab Calloway performance. We can’t say where the frolic pad for the show was, so please beef us if you are hep to that. If you were there, then I’m sure it must have been a real killer-diller with plenty of mitt pounding, so please slide your jib about it with the rest of us. If not and you dig research, get in there!
In the photograph above, Calloway looks dicty, in a fine vine, with two buddy-ghees wearing some hard drapes. Actually, all three gates are togged to the bricks!!! One photograph only shows an unknown canary, a fine dinner donning flowery dry-goods that may be Calloway’s older sister Blanche . . . but that’s just a guess.
And the third photograph depicts Calloway and the chirp above hittin’ some Armstrongs.
Just having these negatives is a real mezz, but their condition is sadder than a map. The 127 format roll film negatives are on an acetate base, and antihalation layer deterioration has caused them to have a splotchy blue discoloration. (And that’s not jive talk!) Scanning the negatives in grayscale eliminates the blue discoloration, but the images still retain a splotchy look. Despite that bring down, they are likely from the late 1930s and I suspect fairly rare.
If you got all that, then you are a hep cat that’s got your boots on! If you are unhep, you may want to consult the bible, The New Cab Calloway’s Hepster Dictionary: Language of Jive [an online list; the 1944 edition of his dictionary is an appendix in Calloway’s autobiography, Of Minnie the Moocher & Me (1976).]
Pheeewww! I think I’ll head home now and guzzle some foam!