Introducing the Ray Alden Collection (70115)

Ray Alden playing banjo, sitting next to Lily May Ledford

The preliminary finding aid for the Ray Alden Collection (70115) is now available to view! It currently includes all analog audiovisual recordings. Photographs, papers and born digital materials are still being arranged and described.

Illustrated and collaged covers for 7" reel-to-reel tapes. Includes pictures of Bessie Jones, Byard Ray, Obray Ramsey and Doc Watson.
Alden’s decorative covers for reel-to-reel tapes. Photo by Aleah Howell.

The Ray Alden Collection includes over 800 analog field recordings, studio recordings and video recordings as well as papers, documentation, photographs and born-digital materials including over 500 CDs and DVDs. The recordings feature primarily white old-time musicians, with a heavy presence of the Round Peak region of North Carolina and Galax, Virginia from the 1960s through the early 2000s. It also includes many recordings and documentation of younger generation old-time and bluegrass musicians from the 1970s through the early 2000s including the Horseflies, the Plank Road String Band, the Chicken Chokers, The Red Mules, the Agents of Terra, Bruce Molsky, Breakfast Special and the Johnson Mountain Boys. As a part of the larger New York folk music community, Alden became involved with the Seegers’ Great Hudson River Revival festival and recorded many of the live performances from the traditional music stage at the festival.  These recordings feature a wide range of musical styles including blues, bluegrass, cajun, gospel, klezmer, son, old-time and more. Also included in this collection are recordings of live performances at New York City folk venues such as Izzy Young’s Folklore Center, Bernie Klay’s McBurney YMCA series and Loy Beaver’s home concerts. Other festivals appearing in the collection include the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Brandywine Mountain Music Convention, Galax Old Fiddlers Convention, Union Grove and the Berryville Bluegrass Festival.

Folklore Center Folk Festival brochure, Breakfast Special, Tommy Jarrell, Kyle Creed
Folklore Center schedule

Ray Alden grew up in an Italian-American household in New York City and was introduced to the banjo through Pete Seeger and the Weavers. Seeing Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham and Oscar Jenkins perform and jam at a show at Loy Beaver’s house in 1967 piqued his interest in older styles of playing, and especially the Round Peak styles. The following year, Alden took his first field recording trip to the Union Grove fiddlers convention, and later to visit old-time musicians Fred Cockerham, Tommy Jarrell and Kyle Creed. That was the beginning of 40 years of field recording and music making. From 1968 to 2009, Alden recorded old-time musicians including Tommy Jarrell, Kyle Creed, Fred Cockerham, Earnest East, Rafe Brady, the Shelor family, the Kimble Family and Clyde Davenport. He also developed a unique banjo style, often sitting in with the musicians he recorded. He became a part of the younger generation of old-time musicians including Brad and Linda Leftwich, Bruce Molsky, Carol Elizabeth Jones, Gary Harrison, Paul Brown, James Leva, Jim Miller, Judy Hyman, Tara Nevins and others. Alden put the same time and care into documenting his peers as he did the older musicians. Many of these recordings resulted in the 1984 album “The Young Fogies”. When he wasn’t playing music or on a field recording trip, Alden taught high school math, designed speakers and painted mathematical-inspired pieces of art.

Original album artwork by Ray Alden for "the Young Fogies"
Original album artwork by Ray Alden for “The Young Fogies”.

Alden started the Field Recorders’ Collective in 2004 as an avenue for collectors such as himself to release recordings, make them accessible to younger generations of players and provide royalty payments to the families of the musicians. The Field Recorders’ Collective has released hundreds of recordings and continues to be an important resource for the old-time music community. This collection includes many of the original recordings that have been released by the FRC.

Recent Field Recorders Collective releases
Recent Field Recorders’ Collective releases

Since Alden’s passing in 2009, the Field Recorders’ Collective has remained strong, with multiple new releases every year. It is an important resource within the old-time music community, providing access to previously unheard recordings. It is unique in its community-centered approach and its emphasis on community knowledge and learning.  Some of the releases from the last few years feature music from Galax fiddler Luther Davis, Gaspésie fiddler Yvon Mimeault, West Virginia banjo player Walter Hensley, and Texas fiddler Teodar Jackson. The website includes articles and album notes related to releases and options to purchase digital copies or the physical CDs and DVDs. You can also stream or download the FRC catalog on bandcamp.  You can follow the FRC on instagram, twitter, facebook, and YouTube for updates on new releases and related videos, photos and audio clips.

Diane Alden pointing out a flyer for Fred Cockerham performance at the Ranch House Back Room in Chapel Hill, NC
Diane Alden pointing out a flyer during the collection pick up. Photo by Steve Weiss.

Some highlights from processing the collection, from a fiddler’s perspective.


20 thoughts on “Introducing the Ray Alden Collection (70115)”

  1. Thank you so much for the love and care you’ve obviously put into this monumental archiving initiative. What an amazing legacy Ray Alden has left; but also, you’ve made his work visible and created a legacy in your own right that will benefit many of us for years to come. I’m inspired and moved.

    1. Hi Jim, thank you for your interest in the collection! There are a couple of recordings of Obray Ramsey in this collection: SFC Audio Open Reel FT-70115/364 and FT-70115/365. The collection isn’t available to request yet since it is still being processed, but you can browse the finding aid to see a list of recordings in the collection. You can also check out the Field Recorders’ Collective release featuring Obray Ramsey or if you prefer, you can download and stream the FRC album on bandcamp

    2. I think there were at least two commercial LPs of Obray Ramsey as well. Somewhere, I have one where Ramsey sings and plays songs of Jimmie Rodgers.

  2. Absolutely marvelous, Tatiana! Thank you for such meticulous work. Ray saved so much for future generations. You are now making those gifts real (available). Blessings! Craig Evans

  3. What a wonderful and loving project! Looking forward to the day we can hear it! Thanks, Tatiana!

  4. This reminds me of the grand times we had unpacking and inventorying the John Edwards Memorial Collection in the basement of the undergrad library in the early 80s. It was foundational to the rest of my career in traditional music and storytelling, and I am thrilled for you that you have this opportunity to arrange and absorb all that material.
    Best to all the current Folklore & Folklife staff and students!
    Joseph Sobol

  5. What a wonderful and important field collection being processed and on its way to being digitally accessible! Thank you Tatiana for your excellent work on this.
    Maggie Holtzberg

  6. Ray also had a record label called Chubby Dragon, which is also the title of a tune Harry Bolick wrote for Ray.

  7. Hello,
    Does UNC have a timetable for the completion of the digitization process for the Ray Alden collection? I’m curious as to when the collection will be made available online.


    1. Hi Chris,
      No timetable for full digitization of the collection. We digitize collections via reference requests, programatic prioritization of collections, and available funding. If you have specific item you’d like to order a copy of, you can request it by sending an email to

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *