Joan Fenton and Documenting Southern Tall Tales

Audiotape of the North Carolina Folklore Broadcast Series found in the Joan Fenton Collection (FT-20015/909).

Joan Fenton was a folklorist and performer who earned a master’s degree in folklore from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. The sound recordings in this collection include interviews, oral histories, songs, and tall tales from artists and musicians throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Louisiana. She also recorded a gospel group at an African American church service near Princeton, West Virginia. Those recordings include sermons and testimonies from members of the congregation. Thanks to our generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the audio items in the Fenton collection are available and streaming online from the finding aid.

Fenton wrote the thesis for her master’s on Howard Cotten, a black tall-tale teller from North Carolina. These recordings include songs, tales, and interviews with Mr. Cotton and others like Laura Lea, a quilter from Chatham County, NC and Cotton’s friend and cousin, Willie Brooks. In the interviews, Cotton sings and tells stories about hitchhiking, ghosts, possum hunting, talking dogs, seeing a train for the first time and more (FT-20015/890-908).  

White sheet of paper with typed interview and field notes.

Field notes and transcribed interview with Howard Cotten by Joan Fenton. Found in the field notes of the Joan Fenton Collection (Folder 5-6, FT890-908).

The above interview is streaming through the finding aid.

White sheet of paper containing type field notes and transcribed interview.

Field notes and transcribed interview with Howard Cotten by Joan Fenton. Found in the field notes of the Joan Fenton Collection (Folder 5-6, FT890-908).

Fenton was the editor and sound engineer on an episode of the UNC Folklore Broadcast featuring a recording of Howard Cotton and Willie Brooks telling tall tales or lies, as Fenton calls them in the introduction to the broadcast, along with blues songs and additional explanation and commentary in between songs and stories. 

Some of my favorite audio recordings in the collection are from the John Henry Folk Festival in 1978. She gathered many interviews from this festival with musicians and attendees. She asks questions about the folk festival, why people attend this specific festival, what the blues mean to them, the importance of gospel music at a festival such as the John Henry festival, and many others. The answers she gets to her questions are part of larger conversations that are still relevant today. Some of the folks interviewed include Sparky Rucker, Ron Wilkerson, Hazel Dickens, Phyllis Boren, The Badgett Sisters, and Pigmeat Jarrett.  

Audiocassette tape with handwritten label

Audiocassette tape of a Hazel Dickens and Phyllis Boyens interview at the John Henry Folk Festival in 1978. (FS-20015/1167)

Finally, Fenton took part in video documentation of blues musicians including videos of Willie Trice. Fenton is described as recording the videos. They are also accessible and streaming in the Southern Folklife Collection Moving Image Materials finding aid. (VOR-30002/110-111).  

Black and white shot of man sitting on couch, playing a guitar.

Willie Trice playing his guitar (VOR-30002/110).

Fenton resides in Charlottesville, VA where she owns 9 retail stores. She is one of the organizers of Blues Week at the Augusta Heritage Workshop in Elkins, WV.

Recent disc acquisitions from the Lloyd Perryman Collection

Recently digitized here at SFC are a selection of discs of various shapes and sizes  from the Lloyd Perryman Collection (20456).

The audio recordings in the collection consist primarily of “radio shows, compilations, songs, and public service announcements by Sons of the Pioneers, Lloyd Perryman, Rex Allen, Rusty Richards, The Whippoorwills, and others.”

Here’s an excerpt from Instantaneous Disc, call number FD-20456/4, “Bowleg Bill and the Humpback Whale,” a novelty song that tells the tale of a seafaring cowboy of sorts in pursuit of a large aquatic mammal he’s not particularly fond of.

Record Label with sticker on label. Reads “Harmony Recorders, 1479 N. Vine St. Hollywood 28, Calif. Bowleg Bill and the Humpback Whale (Oliver-Shapiro).” Sticker reads “Leeway Music, 4042 Benedict Canyon Dr. Sherman Oaks, Calif.”

Also in the collection is radio transcription disc call number FD-20456/63 from the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign, in which Roy Rogers, Pat Brady, and The Sons get into a caper with an enemy as usual – this time, though, it’s a forest fire. The disc includes the Sons’ classic “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds” among others, but somewhat unique is their bespoke Smokey the Bear jingle.

Record Label, text with picture of Smokey the Bear. Reads “Cooperative Forest Fire Campaign, Platter 16, Side 1, 33 1/3 R.P.M. ‘Rodeo Roundup’ featuring Roy Rogers and Pat Brade with The Sons of the Pioneers (4 1/2 minutes), Cut #2 spot (Roy Rogers) 1 minute, Cut #3 spot (Roy Rogers) 1 minute. Sponsored by State Foresters and Forest Service, U.S. Dept. Of Agriculture. A Public Service Program of the Advertising Council.”

These discs and more items from the collection will be but a few showcased as part an event to celebrate recent acquisitions at Wilson Special Collections Library from 5:00-730PM, Thursday, April 4 in the Fearrington Reading Room.

During this open-house event, Library staff members will guide you in an up-close experience with rare and one-of-a-kind items from the North Carolina Collection, Rare Book Collection, Southern Folklife Collection, Southern Historical Collection and University Archives.

From a miniature Renaissance manuscript to items from the papers of legendary Tar Heel coach Dean Smith, these are the items that help to define Carolina’s libraries, making them a point of pride and a destination for research, learning and wonder.

We hope to see you then!

First Impressions: Folk-Legacy Records

First Impressions banner featuring Folk-Legacy Records logo, an illustration of a green man encircled by branches

First Impressions” is an ongoing series on the “first records” of several independent record labels releasing folk, blues, bluegrass, country, and other vernacular musics. Drawing from records and other materials in the Southern Folklife Collection, the focus of this virtual exhibition is on the albums that started it all for these labels in the LP era.


THE ALBUM

LP cover, black and white, featuring close photograph of Frank Proffitt

Frank Proffitt, Frank Proffitt of Reese, North Carolina | FC-383

cover of booklet from Frank Proffitt record, features black and white photograph of Frank Proffitt holding a wooden banjoIn 1961, Sandy Paton recorded Frank Proffitt, a traditional singer, banjo and dulcimer player and instrument maker, in his home in Reese, North Carolina. 14 songs from that recording session were released on the 1962 Folkways album, Frank Proffitt Sings Folk Songs. Sandy Paton was a folk singer in his own right, having already released a well-reviewed album on Elektra Records in 1958, The Many Sides of Sandy Paton. In 1961, however, Paton and an old friend, Lee B. Haggerty, decided to start a record label in Huntington, Vermont. Paton had not been completely satisfied with the Folkways release of Frank Proffitt’s songs, and decided to release more material of his as the first LP on his new label, Folk-Legacy Records. This new album, Frank Proffitt of Reese, North Carolina, featured 17 songs, including the song preserved by Proffitt and made famous by the Kingston Trio, “Tom Dooley.” Most of the songs are of unknown authorship and are credited as traditional, while 4 are credited to Proffitt and 4 more are ballads collected by Francis James Child in the late 19th century. This first Folk-Legacy release, with a stark black-and-white cover, simple packaging, and comprehensive liner notes, is emblematic of their early catalog. In 2001, the album was reissued as Folk-Legacy CD-1, and is now available on digital and streaming platforms.

Here is an excerpt from Track 8, the murder ballad “Tom Dooley”:

Also check out Track 9, “I’m Going Back to North Carolina”:


 THE ARTISt

business card, features small illustrations of banjo and dulcimer

Frank Proffitt business card (front). Included in a letter from Proffitt to Howie Mitchell, a folk revival musician and Appalachian dulcimer maker. More letters from Proffitt can be found in Folders 1-6, Howie Mitchell Papers (20538).

Frank Proffitt was born in Laurel Bloomery, Tennessee in 1913, and raised in Reese, a small town in Watauga County, North Carolina. Proffitt worked in a variety of trades throughout his life, including carpentry, factory work, and growing tobacco. As a carpenter, he became well-known for his handmade fretless banjos and dulcimers, but he was always locally known for his banjo-playing and singing. In the late 1930s, the folksong collectors Anne and Frank Warner met Proffitt through their search for a dulcimer builder. Among the songs that Frank Proffitt shared with the Warners was “Tom Dooley,” a ballad which had been passed through several generations of his family. The Warners in turn shared the song with Alan Lomax, who published it and several others in his book Folk Song USA in 1947. The Kingston Trio learned the song from one of the Warners’ recordings, and the version they sang became one of their first and biggest hits. Frank Proffitt continued to live and work in Reese, North Carolina, and only released two albums in his lifetime: one on Folkways Records and one on Folk-Legacy Records, both recorded by Sandy Paton. After these two releases in the early 1960s, Proffitt enjoyed even more attention in the ongoing folk revival, performing at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 and the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Frank Proffitt passed away in 1965 at the age of 52. In 1969, Folk-Legacy Records released an album of previously unreleased recordings of Proffitt as the Frank Proffitt Memorial Album.

As part of a radio program on record collectors, Billy Faier interviewed Frank and Anne Warner about their lives and work. In this clip from FT-20380/11368 in the Billy Faier Collection (20380), the Warners tell the story of how they first met Frank Proffitt at the home of dulcimer-maker Nathan Hicks in Beech Mountain, NC:

Frank Warner: When we crossed the divide, and looked down over on the 
side, there was this house sitting on the side of Beech Mountain and 
a lot of people around it. And we pulled up and they just gave us a 
tremendous reception.
Anne Warner: Everybody was sort of shy at first, including us.
Billy Faier: Yeah, first time you'd seen them.
FW: Yes! But there was old Frank Proffitt, the son in law of Nathan
(Hicks).
AW: Well we met him for the first time - when you say "old," it's
just in endearment, he was very young, he was about 27.
FW: But I mean, there he was, and uh, Nathan had got him to come over
- he came 25 miles to be with us, and brought his guitar.
AW: It was 25 miles by road or 10 on foot.
FW: Yeah, and he walked, that's right, he walked across carrying his 
guitar on his shoulder all the way across those mountains just to be 
with us, you know.
AW: I remember his - that - acute sense of humor he still has, and we 
had some binoculars, and later on to break the ice everybody was 
looking through these binoculars. Frank Proffitt said, "Well, I can 
see my corn field over there, but I don't see nobody hoeing in it.
All: [Laughter]

The Label & its founders

Black and white flyer featuring an illustration of Sandy Paton holding a guitar

Flyer announcing Sandy Paton as the manager of the Kroch’s & Brentano’s Record Department in Chicago. Folder 113 in the Archie Green Papers (20002).

By 1960, Sandy Paton was working a regular job as the manager of a record department in Chicago, where he focused primarily on stocking and selling folk music. Eventually, however, he and his wife Caroline decided to leave the city life for rural Huntington, Vermont. Soon after their move, they were visited by their friend Lee B. Haggerty, who suggested they start a record label with the rest of Sandy Paton’s unreleased field recordings. Haggerty had just received a sizable inheritance, which formed the foundation of Folk-Legacy Records along with Paton’s tapes of Frank Proffitt. Haggerty joined the Patons in Vermont, and they operated the label from a large barn near their home. Everyone was involved in the operation of the label, from making and purchasing recordings, designing record sleeves, writing liner notes and transcribing lyrics, placing ads in folk music publications, and taking the records on the road to festivals and conventions across the country. In 1967, they moved the label from its home in Vermont to Sharon, Connecticut. The label ultimately released around 150 recordings on LP, CD, and cassette over their more than 50 years of operation. Lee B. Haggerty passed away in 2000 and Sandy Paton passed away in 2009. As of this posting, Caroline Paton maintains the label, which survives primarily through its website.

covers of Folk-Legacy recording catalogs, including Folk-Legacy logos and photos of rustic backdrops

Assorted Folk-Legacy Records catalogs. Folder 396 in the SFC Discographical Files (30014).

In 1991, Ronald Cohen interviewed Sandy and Caroline Paton in their home, and in this clip from that interview, FS-20239/7539 in the Ronald D. Cohen Collection (20239), Sandy Paton describes the humble origins of Folk-Legacy Records.

Sandy Paton: While I was there, I recorded a number of other people 
around Beech Mountain, and I was playing these tapes back home for this 
visitor, Lee Haggerty from Chicago. And he said, you know, what are you 
going to do with them? And I said, well, I might put them together and 
try to make another album for Folkways, and he said, why don't we put 
them out? I said well, it's cool, except, you know, I gotta make money. 
He had inherited some money from an uncle, and so we started Folk-
Legacy Records with his inheritance and my tapes, and produced - I 
called up Diane Hamilton [founder of Tradition Records, another 
prominent folk music label at the time] and asked her who made masters, 
and where did you get your records pressed, and who prints jackets, and 
so on.

Limber jacks and dulcimers

Sandy Paton holding a dulcimer while sitting by a tree, advertisement for "Appalachian Dulcimers"

Flyer for Appalachian dulcimers sold by the Patons, featuring Caroline Paton with two of the dulcimers. NF-1529 in the SFC Artist Name Files (30005).

Operating a record label of any size is a costly venture, but operating a relatively niche, small label like Folk-Legacy was rarely profitable. In part to supplement their income, the Patons sold other items alongside their recordings, both through mail-order and from a table at conventions and festivals. Several accounts describe Sandy Paton as always carrying one of his Limber Jacks, a small, wooden dancing toy the Patons sold for many years. Recognizing a market for the beautiful instruments made by craftsmen like Frank Proffitt, the Patons also sold hand-crafted “Appalachian” dulcimers from their headquarters in Connecticut.

 

 

Flyer for limber jack toys, featuring picture of the toy and picture of the Paton family around a toy

Flyer for the wooden Limber Jack toys sold by the Patons, featuring the entire Paton family crowded around one of the toys. Folder 113 in the Archie Green Papers (20002).


NUMBER TROUBLE

LP cover, features black and white photograph of Sandy and Caroline Paton singing outside

Sandy and Caroline Paton, Sandy and Caroline Paton | FC-8319 | Note the call number in the upper right hand corner of the record sleeve: “EGO-30.”

In discovering the first LP released by a given record label, one challenge can be deciphering the numbering system used by the label. Sometimes the process is simple – early catalogs and the records themselves say “#1” or “1001,” or the liner notes explain that this is the first album released by the label. However, it can also be more complicated – sometimes multiple lines of recordings (i.e. a 400 and 600 “series”) are released simultaneously, labels have several releases prepared before their launch, or numbering systems change throughout the years. Folk-Legacy’s initial numbering system includes four “number 1s,” each with a different prefix: Frank Proffitt is FSA-1, while there is also an FTA-1, FSI-1, and FSE-1. Based on catalogs and various reviews, these prefixes could be loosely translated as: FSA = Folk Songs – Authentic, FTA = Folk Tales – Authentic, FSI = Folk Songs – Interpreters, and FSE = Folk Songs – England. Folk-Legacy continued to use these prefixes in creative (if sometimes confusing) ways throughout their catalog. For example, when Sandy and Caroline Paton released their first album on Folk-Legacy as performers, Sandy and Caroline Paton, they changed the prefix to “EGO” to acknowledge what was required to release an album of your own music on your own record label.

black and white record catalog with photos of LPs and Folk-Legacy logo

Folk-Legacy’s first record catalog. Note that each record is advertised at $4.98, and there are three #1 records. Folder 396 in the SFC Discographical Files (30014).


SHOW ME MORE!

There are an abundance of materials related to Folk-Legacy Records, Frank Proffitt, and other independent record labels in the Southern Folklife Collection, as well as an extensive portion of the Folk-Legacy catalog on LP and CD. Check out a few other items of interest below or search the collection yourself.

front and back cover of Little Sandy Review magazine, photo of Leadbelly on front, photo of cowboy throwing another man on back

An early advertisement on the back cover of The Little Sandy Review proclaims “FOLK-LEGACY IS HERE!” The Little Sandy Review, Vol. 1 no. 21, front and back cover.

front and back cover of folk music magazine, front features Frank Proffitt illustration, back features ad

Frank Proffitt features on the front cover of The Little Sandy Review while another Folk-Legacy ad appears on the back. The Little Sandy Review, Vol. 1 no. 22, front and back cover. Frank Proffitt illustration by George Armstrong, the same artist who designed Folk-Legacy’s iconic Green Man logo.

pencil sketch of a record cover layout with type-written text

This excerpt from a 1962 letter from Sandy Paton to folklorist D.K. Wilgus includes a sketch of the basic Folk-Legacy record layout, which would remain largely unchanged for most of the Folk-legacy catalog. Folder 313 in the D.K. Wilgus Papers (20003).

cut-out illustration of a dulcimer, banjo, and other string instrument featuring descriptions by Frank Proffitt

Frank Proffitt business card (reverse). Included in a letter from Proffitt to Howie Mitchell, a folk revival musician and Appalachian dulcimer maker. More letters from Proffitt can be found in Folders 1-6, Howie Mitchell Papers (20538).

text describing the Folk-Legacy logo, back of a recording catalog

The Folk-Legacy logo, featuring the “Green Man” is explained on the reverse of a 1984 Folk-Legacy Catalog. The artwork by George Armstrong, Caroline Paton explains, is meant to be “an ancient pre-Christian vegetation god, a symbol of the rebirth of nature after its apparent death in winter.” Folder 396 in the SFC Discographical Files (30014).

LP cover featuring three photographs of Sandy Paton in different outfits against a black background

Sandy Paton, The Many Sides of Sandy Paton | FC-4568

An 80th Birthday Salute to John Fahey

Cover for the 1967 rerecording of Blind Joe Death by John Fahey, subtitled volume oneYesterday marked what would have been the 80th birthday of musician, folklorist and proponent of American Primitive Guitar, John Fahey. In honor of this occasion, we pulled a few Fahey-related highlights from our collection.

The 1967 rerecording of his debut set Blind Joe Death provides an excellent primer on the breadth and depth of his idiosyncratic playing style, nicknamed “American Primitive Guitar,” juxtaposing traditional country blues fingerpicking guitar techniques against melodies drawn from traditions ranging from gospel hymns and 20th century classical music to Indian ragas.

Record sleeve for The Yellow Princess by John Fahey

By the late 60s, Fahey had expanded the sonic palette of his recordings significantly: incorporating found sound and tape collage techniques and occasionally bringing in additional musicians to flesh out his solo guitar performances. The Yellow Princess exemplifies this experimentation by featuring contributions by Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes from the psychedelic band Spirit and ex-Byrds drummer Kevin Kelley alongside musique concrete pieces and Fahey’s own consistently excellent solo guitar.

Record sleeve for the Leo Koettke/Peter Lang/John Fahey split album

Box containing safety masters for side one of John Fahey's Old Fashioned LoveFahey was also known for founding the influential folk label Takoma Records, which was responsible for several high-profile releases by like-minded musicians such as Leo Koettke, Robbie Basho, Peter Lang and Joseph Byrd among others. The 1974 split LP Leo Koettke/Peter Lang/John Fahey shows all three guitarists in fine form, each performing a set that exemplifies the American Primitive Guitar style.Box containing a tape with rough and alternate mixes for John Fahey's Old Fashioned Love albumOur archival holdings also include a number of fascinating Fahey-related items. Of particular note in the Greenhill Family/FLi Artists/Folklore Productions Collection (20542) are tapes containing safety masters and rough mixes from Fahey’s 1975 LP Old Fashioned Love as well as promotional artwork meant to accompany the Shanachie records re-release of Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes.

Illustration excerpts from Admiral Kelvinator's Clockwork Factory by John Fahey

Handwritten orchestration charts for the song Old Fashioned Love by John FaheyIn addition, this collection holds a number of unique Fahey manuscript items: including a typescript copy of Fahey’s unpublished book Admiral Kelvinator’s Clockwork Factory. Especially exciting are handwritten lead sheets and orchestration charts for a number of his pieces, prepared as part of the copyright registration process for these compositions.

John Fahey passed away in 2001, leaving behind a vibrant and restlessly imaginative body of work that continues to inspire musicians to this day.

Hand written lead sheets for Funeral Song by John Fahey

 

Documenting Gravel Springs, Mississippi, in the 1970s: Dr. Cheryl Thurber and Rising Star Fife and Drum

Othar Turner blowing fife at picnic 1973. Photographed by Cheryl Thurber.

One week from today, Monday February 25.

Documenting Gravel Springs, Mississippi, in the 1970s

Exhibition opening with lecture by Dr. Cheryl Thurber and performance by Rising Star Fife and Drum

5:30 p.m. Reception and exhibition viewing
6:00 p.m. Lecture
7:00 p.m. Performance

Scenes and sounds of African-American musical traditions from Mississippi will greet visitors to Wilson Library during the opening of a new photographic exhibition in the Pleasants Family Assembly Room.

“Cheryl Thurber Photographs: Documenting Gravel Springs, Mississippi, in the 1970s” will launch with a talk by the photographer and a performance by Rising Star Fife and Drum.

Thurber is an interdisciplinary scholar, cultural historian, folklorist and photographer whose images have been published in the New York Times and Rolling Stone, as well as in numerous music and folklore publications.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Thurber traveled through the South and California, documenting African-American communities, musicians and musical traditions, including in the small town of Gravel Springs, Mississippi. Thirty prints from Thurber’s time in Gravel Springs will be on view. They are part of the Cheryl Thurber Photographic Collection in the Southern Folklife Collection at the Wilson Special Collections Library.

Following Thurber’s talk, Rising Star Fife and Drum will take the stage for a traditional performance of this iconic form of blues music.

Presented by the Southern Folklife Collection at the Wilson Special Collections Library, the American Studies department and the Center for the Study of the American South.

Frank Hovington materials at the SFC

Frank Hovington posing in front of his Fenton, Delaware home in April of 1978

Frank Hovington posing in front of his Felton, Delaware home in April of 1978. A still image from the video “Frank Hovington at home, Felton, Del., 30 April 1978” (VT-20466/21) in the Robert D. Bethke Collection.

One of my personal favorites in the Robert D. Bethke Collection (20466) is a video recording (VT-20466/21) of Frank Hovington playing guitar and singing at his home in Felton, Deleware back in April of 1978.

The Bethke Collection contains several original analog audio and video recordings of Frank Hovington (1919-1982), an American blues musician who was known for playing his guitar in the Piedmont blues style.

It’s a fascinating story how Frank (aka Guitar Frank), a man who lived the majority of his life in the state of Delaware, began playing the Piedmont blues. Music was in his family (Frank’s grandfather belonged to a fife and drum corps and his paternal uncle played piano and organ), but it was Frank’s neighbor, Adam Greenfield, who influenced him the most. Greenfield was a former Pullman porter from New Bern, North Carolina, who eventually bought a farm and settled about three miles from the Hovington family’s farm. According to Frank,

“They used to have what they called parties on a Saturday night, house-hops, and I would go ’round with my father and sit and hear [Adam Greenfield] play…and that was when I was first inspired to play banjo and guitar through him…I was only around five or six years old and I used to love to get right near him and watch that guitar and watch his fingers when he was playing and my father used to let me go and stay and watch him, so every time he used to be around town, I’d always make it my way to find where he was and listen to that guitar.”*

Frank Hovington on stage holding a guitar and talking into a microphone

Frank Hovington talking to elementary school students in February of 1979. A still image from the video “Frank Hovington at George M. Gray Elementary School, Wilmington, Del., 23 February 1979: tape 1 of 2 ” (VT-20466/36) in the Robert D. Bethke Collection.

Another video (VT-20466/36VT-20466/37) in the Bethke Collection documents Frank telling his Piedmont blues origin story to a group of elementary school students. I highly recommend checking this footage out. Not only do you get to see Frank tell his own story, but you also get to hear Frank play his songs to an enthusiastic audience of children, whose little voices and rowdy responses add a really special element to the video.

Now back to the 1978 footage of Frank I mentioned above. Robert D. Bethke, a folklorist who taught courses at the University of Delaware from 1977 to 2000, shot this particular video on portapak, a portable analog video tape recording system introduced in 1967 that made it possible to shoot and record video outside of a studio.

the front cover and inside of the 1/2" open reel video shot by Robert D. Bethke in 1978

the front cover (left) and a peek inside (right) of the original 1/2″ open reel video (VT-20466/21) shot by Robert D. Bethke in 1978

The video features Frank playing such traditional songs as “Railroad Blues” and “John Henry”. We also catch a glimpse of his home and property, on what looks like a nice, sunny spring day.

Thanks to a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant, this particular video (+ over 80 audio and video recordings found in the Bethke Collection!) have been preserved and are now accessible through the Bethke Collection finding aid (streaming access to the collection’s audio and video materials is limited to the UNC campus at this time). For your enjoyment, we’ve edited this short clip that features Frank playing “John Henry” :

"John Henry" lyrics transcribed from video recording VT-20466/21:


John asked his captain, 
When are you goin' to town?
If you bring me a twenty pound hammer, 
Beat a little steel back on down, hey gal
Beat a little steel back on
Beat a little steel back on down 

Well, who been here since I been gone? 
Well, who gonna kiss your rosy cheeks? 
Well, who gonna shoe your cozy feet? 

John Henry's woman, she talked so fair 
Get my shoes from a steel-drivin' man 
Kisses from a millionaire, hey gal 
Kisses from a millionaire 
Kisses from a millionaire 

John Henry asked his captain, 
When are you goin' to town? 
If you bring me a twenty pound hammer, 
Beat a little steel back on down 
Beat a little steel back on
Beat a little steel back on down 

Early in the morning, 'bout the break of day 
Heard a voice in the wilderness, cryin, 
Well, my side givin' away 
Well, my left side givin' away 
Well, my left side givin' away 

Well, Who been here since I been gone? 
Well, who gonna kiss your rosy cheeks? 
Who's gonna be your man? 
Who's gonna be your man? 

John Henry's woman, well, she talked so fair 
Get my shoes from a steel-drivin' man 
Kisses from a millionaire, hey gal 
Kisses from a millionaire 
Kisses from a millionaire 

Well, who been here since I been gone? 

John Henry's woman, name was Polly Ann 
Day she heard John Henry died 
She drove steel like a man, hey gal 
She drove steel like a man 
She drove steel like a man

Frank may be best known for his album Lonesome Road Blues, which like the video clip above, features intimate home recordings of Hovington, but this time on guitar, vocals, AND banjo. Folklorist, Bruce Bastin, and musicologist, Dick Spottswood, made the album recordings at Frank’s home over a July weekend in 1975, just three years before Bethke made his way to the same address. The album was released by Bastin’s label, Flyright Records, in 1976 (FLY LP 522) and then again by Rounder Records in 1979 (Rounder Records 2017).

LP covers of Lonesome Road Blues by Frank Hovington

FLY LP 522 (left) and Rounder Records 2017 (right)

The Southern Folklife Collection has copies of both of these releases (pictured above), as well as materials relating to the Flyright release in the Bruce Bastin Collection (20428). We invite you to dig through all of these materials across SFC’s collections to get to know Frank Hovington and his music. A good start may be Bastin’s impressive liner notes on Lonesome Road Blues, as well as the subject files and images of Frank found in the Robert D. Bethke Collection. Happy sleuthing.

*Frank Hovington quote taken from Bruce Bastin’s liner notes to Frank Hovington: Lonesome Road Blues.- Flyright FLYLP 522 (1976)

Congratulations Bill Ferris! “Voices of Mississippi” box set wins two Grammys

Double Grammy award winning box set released by Dust-To-Digital in 2018. Produced from materials in the William R. Ferris Collection (20367).

photo by Marcie Cohen Ferris

We were thrilled to see our colleague, collaborator, and constant source of inspiration Dr. William R. Ferris honored with two Grammy awards at yesterday’s ceremony for the box set Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris. Ferris, along with compilation producers April Ledbetter and Lance Ledbetter of record label Dust-to-Digital and mastering engineer, Michael Graves, received Grammy recognition for “Best Historical Album” and Ferris, along with David Evans, also won for “Best Album Notes.”  Materials for the box set come from the William R. Ferris Collection (20367) that is part of the Southern Folklife Collection at Wilson Special Collections Library here in the University Libraries at UNC Chapel Hill.

Over the past decade, archivists, audio engineers, photo technicians, students, researchers, and Bill Ferris himself have worked to arrange, describe, and digitize the more than 250,000 sound recordings, photographs, videos, films, papers, and ephemera that make up the William R. Ferris Collection. Thanks to the dedicated teams at Wilson Library and with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a few thousand of these sound recordings, videos, films, and photos are digitized and can be streamed or viewed in their entirety online. It’s exciting to think of listeners hearing a track on Voices of Mississippi and then be able to find that recording and many others in the William R. Ferris Collection (20367) finding aid.  They may want to hear more of Lovey Williams, or to hear James “Son” Thomas playing in a juke joint, or Fannie Bell Chapman singing in her back yard

SFC Audio Open Reel FT-20367/10256

(digitized)

Ferris Folklore Tapes: James “Son” Thomas, Shelby Brown. FFT 41-69-5/24

SFC Audio Open Reel FT-20367/11175

(digitized)

Lovey Williams blues

SFC Audio Open Reel FT-20367/9958

(digitized)

Fannie Bell Chapman: Singing in back yard, 10 August 1973. FCT 68-73-8/10

These examples are the smallest sample of the opportunities available to interested researchers and listeners and explorers of the rich cultural history and beautiful human artistry documented by Dr. Ferris. B. B. King recorded at home, extensive conversations with brilliant minds like Eudora Welty, Walker Evans, Alice Walker, tales told by Ray Lum and Victor Bob and many, many others are streaming online.  There are also thousands of photographs digitized and searchable through the William R. Ferris Collection Digital Photographs.

Bill Ferris, Bruce Payne (WOKJ radio announcer), and Robert Slattery (sound technician) in the WOKJ radio station during the production of the film “Give My Poor Heart Ease.” In DJ booth of radio station. Bill Ferris on left holds a soda bottle. DJ seated is talking with Ferris.

Bill Ferris, Bruce Payne (WOKJ radio announcer), and Robert Slattery (sound technician) in the WOKJ radio station during the production of the film “Give My Poor Heart Ease.

It is exciting to see recognition for the work that Dr. Ferris dedicated his life to. It is also exciting to see recognition for the people of Mississippi who, in Bill’s words, “so courageously shared their stories.”

That list is long, but to start, thanks to Scott Dunbar, Lovey Williams, Walter Lee Hood, Tom Dumas, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Wash Heron, Wallace “Pine-Top” Johnson, Sonny Boy Watson, Mary Alice McGowan, The Southland Hummingbirds, Liddle Hines, Mary and Amanda Gordon, Reverend Isaac Thomas, Bobby Rush, Barry Hannah, Joe Cooper, Joe Skillet, Shelby “Poppa Jazz” Brown, Pete Seeger, Charles Seeger, Imamu Amiri Baraka, Victor Bobb, Cleanth Brooks, Fannie Bell Chapman, Edith Clark, Leon “Peck” Clark, Bill Clinton,

Eudora Welty on left in white sweater, Bill Ferris on right with sport coat. they are standing outside

Eudora Welty at her home on Pinehurst Place in Jackson, Mississippi, 1976. William R. Ferris Collection (20367)

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Willie Dixon, John Dollard, Louis Dotson, Walker Evans, Marcie Cohen Ferris, Shelby Foote, Ernest J. Gaines, Allen Ginsberg, Theora Hamblett,Bessie Jones, B.B. King, Alan Lomax, Ray Lum, Arthur Miller, Ethel Wright Mohamed, Ola Belle Reed, Harry Smith, James “Son” Thomas, Othar Turner, Alice Walker, Pecolia Warner, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, and members of the Rose Hill Baptist Church in Vicksburg, Miss.

Our sincerest thanks and gratitude to all of these individuals and many more unnamed, for their willingness to share parts of their lives with Dr. Ferris and then with all of us.  But once more, many congratulations to our friend Bill Ferris and his fellow award winners Lance, April, Michael, and David. We can’t wait to hear what stories you will turn up next.

BB King lying on a couch asleep before a show

B. B. King in repose. Photo by William Ferris. William R. Ferris Collection (20367)

Southern Artists in the Judith McWillie Papers

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Last year we digitized over 100 videos from the Judith McWillie Papers documenting a diverse set of artists at work. Focusing primarily on southern artists (with an emphasis on Georgia natives), McWillie spent hours filming in homes, studios and yards from the mid-1980s to late 1990s before focusing her lens on Cuban art in the 2000s.

Below is a sampling of screenshots from some of these videos, which were originally brought to the Southern Folklife Collection on Video8 or VHS, and are now available through the Judith McWillie Papers finding aid (20455).

Precious Bryant sit and tunes her acoustic guitar

Precious Bryant tuning her guitar in Waverly Hall, GA on August 8, 1986 (VT-20455/16)

Mary T. Smith stands at a table outside, holding her canvas with two cats in the background

Mary T. Smith is asked to paint her cats in Hazlehurst, MS on December 15th, 1986 (VT-20455/26)

A painting of two yellow cats against a black background stands upright on a table

Cats in progress (VT-20455/26)

Robert Beauchamp stands in his studio surrounded by canvasses of his artwork

Robert Beauchamp in his studio in Athens, GA on May 26th, 1984 (VT-20455/93)

Wadsworth Jarrell sits in front of his paintings

Wadsworth Jarrell discussing his work in Athens, GA on June 9th, 1984 (VT-20455/94)

colorful portrait of a boy using purple, yellow, red, blue and white values

Close up of painting by Jarrell featured in the exhibition AFRICOBRA III at Howard University in 1973 (VT-20455/94)

silhouette of trees and flock of black birds against purple, yellow and pink sunset

McWillie takes a break from interviewing and videotapes formations made by a flock of birds in Athens, GA (VT-20455/15)

Judith McWillie is professor emeritus of drawing and painting at the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia. Preservation and access to these materials was made possible by funding through our Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant, Extending the Reach of Southern Audiovisual Sources.

Mark J. O’Donnell Collection Tape Addition

Photo of shelving in a room where archival materias are processed. Shelves are lined with cassette tapes that are a part of the O'Donnell collection within the Southern Folklife Collection at UNC Chapel Hill.

The workspace for Emma and Rae. The shelves of tapes seen here are only about half of the tapes that comprise the Mark J. O’Donnell Collection, 20555.

Tape collector Mark J. O’Donnell has collected and recorded live audio recordings of bluegrass, blues, jazz, and rock music in North Carolina and all across the country. The Mark O’Donnell Collection (#20555) consists of materials related to concerts and festivals at North Carolina area venues, including Cat’s Cradle, Arts Center, as well as some national venues and radio programs, including McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, Calif. and the Los Angeles based syndicated music program, FolkScene.

Over the past two months, we have arranged and described an additional 1,929 audiocassettes and DATs that will be added to the collection as a part of the next phase of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

While many of the performances recorded on these tapes are located at venues across the US, a number of these recorded performances are in the Tarheel State. We’ve chosen to highlight some of our favorite North Carolina recordings from these tapes here.

Photo of a box of cassette tapes from Merlefest performances. Labels on tapes include Merlefest logo, a racoon. Recordings are from various years, as indicated on tapes.

A sample of some of the Merlefest recordings you will find in the Mark J. O’Donnell Collection, (#20555).

This addition of tapes to the O’Donnell collection contains numerous recordings from Merlefest, specifically from the years 1992-2004. This festival has long buttressed the community for roots and traditional music by providing a space for performers such as Doc Watson, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Earl Scruggs, Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss and Steve Earle. According to the festival’s website, “MerleFest, considered one of the premier music festivals in the country, serves as an annual homecoming for musicians and music fans. Held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the late Eddy Merle Watson, son of American music legend Doc Watson. MerleFest is a celebration of ‘traditional plus’ music, a unique mix of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock and many other styles.” The annual event continues to grow and thrive, year after year, and is the primary source of funding for the Wilkes Community College Foundation.

You can experience Merlefest for yourself this April 25-28, 2019. Until then, you can listen to these iconic Merlefest recordings from the O’Donnell collection by visiting the Southern Folklife Collection at UNC. Visit the Merlefest website here.

Photo of a cassette tape next to its case. Also includes ticket stub that reads "Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band live show at the Carolina Theatre in Durham, NC." Flyer with black and white picture of Steve Earle and Del McCoury Band.

Advertisement , ticket stub and recording of a 1999 Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band live show at the Carolina Theatre in Durham, NC, FS-205555/414.

Tape on a table, also next to a black and white flyer for Buddy and Julie Miller at the Cat's Cradle. Flyer has photo of Buddy and Julie Miller.

Advertisement for a 2002 Buddy and Julie Miller show at the legendary Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, NC. This flyer accompanies the recording of that show, FS-20555/932.

In addition to many other regional, national and international recordings, O’Donnell has also provided us with documentation of performances from our local music venues over the past few decades including: concert posters, fliers, artist photos, programs, and ticket stubs. Venues such as the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro and the Carolina Theatre in Durham have provided a solid foundation for both local musicians to perform, and for the residents of the area to experience a wide breadth of styles and genres of live music. Visit our finding aid to find out more about the fantastic local recordings and more included in the Mark J. O’Donnell Collection. Due to copyright issues, the recordings in the O’Donnell collection will be available for research use in Wilson Library only. Rights for the recordings are held by the authors of the work. Information for interested researchers can be found on our website here

 

Bill Smith retires from Crook’s Corner

Three t-shirts of Chapel Hill bands formerly owned by Chef Bill Smith: Johnny Quest, Shiny Beast, and Spatula

mid shot of Bill Smith, age mid-60s, wearing blue button down shirt, glasses, bald head

Bill Smith at “History of the Cat’s Cradle” panel, SFC 25th Anniversary, 23 August 2014. 

This past weekend, friend of the Southern Folklife Collection (and to all of Chapel Hill/Carrboro/humanity) Bill Smith worked his last official shift as executive chef of Crook’s Corner restaurant.  It is impossible to quantify the amount of joy and happiness that Bill has brought to so many people over the last five decades as a chef, former co-owner of the Cat’s Cradle, community leader, and friend. In honor of his illustrious career, we pulled a few special items from the Bill Smith T-Shirt Collection (20498).  These well-loved, and well-worn, t-shirts were collected by Smith over the years, attending shows after shifts at Crook’s. In honor of Smith’s stature in our community, we have chosen shirts representing local bands including; Johnny Quest, Shiny Beast, Spatula, Erectus Monotone, and the Merge Records 10th anniversary shirt. We can only imagine what delicious things Smith was cooking up while wearing these in the kitchen. Perhaps those stains on the Erectus Monotone shirt below could come from one of his signature dishes Atlantic Beach Pie? Shrimp and Grits? Green Tabasco chicken?  We can’t wait to see what Smith get’s into next. From all of us: thank you, Bill Smith.