Won’t You Come and Sing for Me? The Music of Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard

In preparation for the upcoming event “Won’t You Come and Sing for Me? The Music of Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard” here are some thoughts on a recording of a Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard  performance in 1973 by guest writer Tatiana Hargreaves. 

Tatiana Hargreaves is a first year graduate student at UNC’s School of Information and Library Science Master of Science in Library Science program. She is a lecturer of bluegrass fiddle in the music department at UNC and performs internationally with banjo player Allison de Groot. She received her BA in ethnomusicology and music performance from Hampshire College in 2017. 

Event Details:

Won’t You Come and Sing for Me? The Music of Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard

Thursday, October 14th at 7pm Eastern time. 

This virtual event will feature performances by International Bluegrass Music Association vocalist of the year award winner Dudley Connell, fiddler Tatiana Hargreaves and clawhammer banjo player Allison de Groot. Following their performances, the musicians will participate in a panel discussion moderated by Laurie Lewis and Gerrard with record producer Peter Siegel. This event is the first in the Southern Folklife Collection’s two-part Folk Legacy Series celebrating great legacies in American vernacular music: bluegrass pioneers Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard and legendary blues musician John Lee Hooker. The virtual events are free and open to the public. The series is sponsored through generous support from the Martin Guitar Charitable Foundation. The second event, Boom Boom! The Music of John Lee Hooker, will take place November 4, 2021.

Sign up for the event here: http://go.unc.edu/HazelandAlice

AG 453: Alice and Hazel, recorded on 24 September 1973, in concert at Washington Square Church in N.Y.C. 

Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, often described as “pioneering women of bluegrass,” are two of the most iconic and visible women in the bluegrass music community. Their first album released in 1965 is considered the first women duet-led bluegrass recording and as a duo they recorded three more albums and toured extensively throughout the 1960s and 1970s. They performed at festivals such as the Newport Folk Festival, Smithsonian Folk Festival and Bill Monroe’s Bean Blossom Festival and regularly participated in the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project where they toured with artists such as Elizabeth Cotten, Dock Boggs, Ola Belle Reed, Johnny Shines, and many others. In 2017 they were the first women to be inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame. But even with musicians as visible as Hazel and Alice, there are so many details that go unnoticed. 

Hazel Dickens, second from right, at the Brandywine Mountain Music Convention, Summer 1974. Photo by Alice Gerrard. Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006)

The standard Hazel and Alice narrative focuses on their powerful harmony singing and repertoire choice. What isn’t recognized as much is their instrumental performances, attention to detail in song arrangements and overall artistry. On their professional recordings, you hear a selected and curated outcome of both traditional and original material, mostly in the context of a full band. Their last album has some more stripped down duo arrangements, but listening to this live performance of Hazel and Alice from 1973 shows another side of the duo. This concert recording of just the two of them demonstrates the versatility of their musicianship. Throughout the performance, you can hear Gerrard playing lead guitar, lead banjo, and lead autoharp in addition to both Alice and Hazel being featured as solo vocalists. 

Hearing their stage banter and tuning on stage also gives a more intimate perspective on the duo. Sometimes you can hear Dickens say “too fast” at the beginning of a song as they adjust their speed during the performance. Other times you can hear the two of them moving around, deciding where to stand and how close to the mic to get. Other times, you can even hear them reminding each other how a tune starts or what the next verse of a song is. Dickens does most of the talking as she shares stories about her family, touring anecdotes and the backgrounds of the songs. Meanwhile, Gerrard tunes the various instruments that she plays and adds in commentary, only introducing a few of the songs such as her banjo feature “Fortune.”

Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, 1975. From the Mike Seeger collection (#20009)

While Gerrard tunes the banjo in between the songs “Train on the Island” and “Steals of the White Man,” Dickens talks about changing their song choices when they started doing the Southern Folk Festival (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20004/). She adds, “I don’t want to say ‘repertoire’, that’s too uptown” and laughs. The tours couldn’t afford to pay for the full band, so they rearranged their material as a duo and added new repertoire (I know, too uptown). You can hear some of the practicing recordings of Hazel and Alice working on these arrangements on the 2018 release ‘Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard – Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969’s. 

Some of the stage banter is humorous, such as Dickens’ story about her father who used to play banjo. She talks about how he would play square dances, barn raisings, apple butter makings, and many other events but stopped once he “got religion.” When Dickens and her brother encouraged their father to play the banjo again by getting him a new instrument, she says, “he got up in the middle of the night one night and destroyed it.” 

Dickens and Gerrard also include anecdotes about their song choices. For example, before singing “Steals of a White Man,” Dickens talks about the influence of the Southern Folk Festival tours (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20004/) on her conception of class. She jokes, “I never even knew that I belonged to the working class [before these tours]. I didn’t even know I had a class.” Although she’d been singing working class songs her whole life, she just didn’t know that they were called that. Later, when Dickens announces “Mining Camp Blues,” she talks about Trixie Smith being the only Black woman singer she knew of who wrote a song about mining. On the second tape, Gerrard introduces her song “Hey, Mr. Nixon” by saying “I wrote it after I saw the Indo-China peace campaign with Jane Fonda.” She also adds that she has only  performed it once before and needs a lyric sheet, which you then hear her try to pin up on the mic stand. 

One of my favorite moments from the performance is when Gerrard plays the tune “Fortune” on banjo. She announces the tune with, “This is my favorite fiddle tune”, to which Dickens replies, “that doesn’t look much like a fiddle to me, Alice.” Alice admits, “I wish I could play it on the fiddle, but I can’t play it on the fiddle so I decided to try and learn it on the banjo.” Gerrard is in fact a fiddle player, and you can hear some of her playing throughout her collection. (Check out this footage of Alice playing fiddle with Bertie Dickens playing banjo https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/sfc/id/56594/rec/1

Alice Gerrard with banjo. 16th Southern Grassroots Music Tour, 1980-81. Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection (#20004)

These spontaneous moments of Alice and Hazel in concert reveal a nuanced version of themselves that gets lost in the “pioneering women of bluegrass” narrative. Having never seen Hazel and Alice perform as a duo, I found that the talking, tuning and spaces in between each song offered a more complete perspective of the duo than I had heard before. I look forward to joining Alice Gerrard, Laurie Lewis, Dudley Connell,  Allison de Groot and Peter Siegel in conversation about the music of Hazel and Alice on October 14th at 7pm. You can sign up for the event here: https://lnkd.in/dzmhHcZf

 

 

 

 

Photo of the week: Lightnin’ Hopkins, Kenny Whitson, Joe Chambers

Picture in school room in front of blackboard of three musicians, Joe Chambers on harmonica, Kenny Whitson on cornet, and Lightnin' Hopkins on guitar.
From left: Joe Chambers, Kenny Whitson, and Lightnin’ Hopkins. From the Mary Katherine Aldin Artist Files Collection, #20485.  Southern Folklife Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This picture, courtesy of the Mary Katherine Aldin Artist Files (#20485), was scanned to be considered for inclusion in a documentary about the singer and activist Barbara Dane, about which you can read more (and support!) here: https://www.barbaradane.net/documentary-film

We don’t know the photographer, but the picture was taken at the folk music club Ash Grove in Los Angeles in what was called “the classroom” — used for classes of the Ash Grove School of Traditional Folk Music during the day, and an extra hang out space for performers at night.  From left are Joe Chambers (of the Chambers Brothers) with a harmonica, Dane’s long time musical collaborator Kenny Whitson on cornet, and Lightnin’ Hopkins on guitar.

The picture had been hanging on the wall of Aldin’s office at Ash Grove when the club burned down for the first time in 1969.  With owner Ed Pearl’s permission, Aldin salvaged the picture from rubble and kept a framed version of it with Chambers cropped out.  It wasn’t until the scan request that Aldin recalled the presence of Chambers in the foreground.  Ed Pearl passed away in February of this year, and you can read more about his life and Ash Grove in his obituary in the Los Angeles Times: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2021-02-09/ed-pearl-dead-ash-grove

Many live recordings from Ash Grove can be found in the Eugene Earle Collection (#20376), held by the SFC.

Barbara Dane first encountered the Chambers Brothers performing as a gospel group at Ash Grove on the same bill as her and Hopkins, and took them on the road, recording an album with them (Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers, released by Folkways) and performing at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.  Dane also recorded a session with Hopkins in 1964 for Arhoolie Records that was released in 1996 as Sometimes I Believe She Loves Me.

The SFC has a small collection of sound recordings on instantaneous disc from Dane (Barbara Dane Collection, #20412), and the collection of her late husband, folklorist and longtime editor of Sing Out! (Sing Out! Collection, #20550), as well as co-founder of their record label Paredon Records, Irwin Silber (Irwin Silber Collection, #20432).  The Paredon Records archive can be found in the Ralph Rinzler Archives at the Smithsonian.

See the preview of the documentary, The Nine Lives of Barbara Dane, below:

 

 

ICYMI – When I’m Gone: Remembering Elizabeth Cotten

I was reflecting on this crazy year recently, and feeling grateful for our Elizabeth Cotten event earlier in November, a heartwarming hour amid all the noise of the previous few months that was fun to share and experience with all who tuned in.

In case you missed it, the full event is available to stream below from the UNC Libraries YouTube channel.

Cotten’s great-grandson John Evans, Jr. and his family, along with Yasmin Williams, bookended the event with performances that recalled the origins of Cotten’s music, along with how it continues to inspire contemporary musicians.

Alice Gerrard’s segment offered an intimate recollection of life on the road with Cotten on tours organized by the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project.  The SFC is proud to hold both the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20004/), as well as the collection of Anne Romaine (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20304/), one of the co-founders of the SFCRP with Bernice Johnson Reagon.

Reverend Pearly Brown, Anne Romaine in background (P-20004/2805). In the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection #20004, Southern Folklife Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

There was also a glimpse and mention of Dick Waterman in Gerrard’s slideshow, and the SFC holds the Dick Waterman Photography Collection (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20533/), a rich resource of photographs documenting the blues, country, and rock music scenes from the 1960s to the early 2000s.

Elizabeth Cotten (PF-20009/16). In the Mike Seeger Collection #20009, Southern Folklife Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In addition to the Cotten-related collections mentioned in the previous post (and check out one of the earliest known photos of a young Elizabeth Cotten above from the Mike Seeger Collection) (When I’m Gone: Remembering Folk Icon Elizabeth Cotten), we invite you to explore those associated collections held by the SFC that were referenced in the event.

The Elizabeth Cotten appearance on Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest TV show that opened the event can be found here a little more smoothly than the video capture over Zoom.  The SFC has the original 2″ quad video of that show in the Pete Kuykendall Collection (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20546/).

When I’m Gone: Remembering Folk Icon Elizabeth Cotten

 

The Southern Folklife Collection and the University Libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are happy to invite you to an evening of stories and music celebrating the life of legendary North Carolina musician Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten.  Please join us Thursday, November 12 at 7pm.  Register for this free, live event here: go.unc.edu/ElizabethCotten

Elizabeth Cotten and children (PF-20009/17). Photo by Mike Seeger. Ca. 1957 in the Mike Seeger Collection #20009, Southern Folklife Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This hour-long virtual program will feature guitarist Yasmin Williams, musician and scholar Alice Gerrard, and Cotten’s great-grandson John W. Evans Jr., who is pictured above as a young boy listening to Cotten.

The SFC is proud to hold a number of collections related to the work of Cotten, including Alice Gerrard’s own collection (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20006/).

Elizabeth Cotten, Live! | FC-17741 in the Southern Folklife Collection

Many live concert recordings are held in the McCabe’s Guitar Shop Collection (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20511/), which also includes a video interview, from around 1984, of Cotten and some of her family.  The Grammy-award winning Elizabeth Cotten, Live! recording (pictured above), a sampler of live performances from Cotten in her 80s, includes selections from sets recorded at McCabe’s and preserved in the collection.

The Stefan Grossman Collection (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20578/), picked up in December 2019, also offers some classic Cotten material through his Vestapol label, a deep source of a variety of video recordings of jazz, blues, country, and folk artists.

Perhaps the richest source of Cotten material is held in the Mike Seeger Collection (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20009/).  It was while in employment as a housekeeper for the Seeger family that Cotten picked up a guitar again after a period of musical inactivity, and Mike Seeger’s reel-to-reel recordings of her playing propelled her to becoming a popular figure on the folk circuit, and a touring and performing career that lasted into her 90s.

Elizabeth Cotten and Mike Seeger (PF-20009/22). In the Mike Seeger Collection #20009, Southern Folklife Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Many thanks to a generous grant from the Martin Guitar Charitable Foundation for making this event possible.

And if you ever find yourself down our way in Elizabeth Cotten’s hometown, check out this recently installed mural by North Carolina artist Scott Nurkin, near the Chapel Hill/Carrboro border, as part of the Musician Murals Project.

You Gave Me A Song

Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, 1975
Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, 1975. From the Mike Seeger Collection (#20009)

On Monday, May 11th, Reel South, a cooperative documentary series among the South’s PBS-member stations, will make the Alice Gerrard documentary You Gave Me A Song available to stream.

Reel South -You Gave Me A Song

Directed by Kenny Dalsheimer, You Gave Me A Song (http://www.alicegerrardfilm.com/) “offers an intimate portrait of old-time music pioneer Alice Gerrard and her remarkable, unpredictable journey creating and preserving traditional music.”

Check your local member stations for when it might air in your area, but North Carolina’s UNC-TV will air it in the coming days over its various stations:

Reel South – You Gave Me A Song

  • Thursday, May 14, 10:00 pm – UNC-TV
  • Friday, May 15, 04:00 am – North Carolina Channel
  • Sunday, May 17, 10:00 pm – North Carolina Channel

Explore a few of the SFC’s resources featured in the film and related to Alice Gerrard below:

Alice Gerrard Collection:
Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection:
Hazel Dickens Collection:

Old Time Herald Collection:
https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20067/

 

Field Trip South: Picking Up The Bobby Patterson Collection

Album Cover for Old-time Fiddling and Clawhammer Banjo, Tommy Jarrell, Kyle Creed, Audine Lineberry, and Bobby Patterson, Mountain Records #

Welcome back to Field Trip South. This period of isolation is a great time for recollections of a couple of our own recent field trips—my first collection pickups as Collection Assistant with the SFC.  It might help during this time to remember ventures outside and connections with people, the history we all share, and the community that shared history creates.

Bobby Patterson (#20574) connected people for years from his hub in the Coal Creek Community near Galax, Virginia, as a musician, producer, and documenter of the old time mountain music of the region, operating Mountain Records with Kyle Creed before building his own studio and starting his Heritage Records label.

Bobby Patterson seated, holding a banjo with a mandolin and electric bass on either side of him
Bobby Patterson poses with banjo, mandolin, and electric bass

As another SFC connection Paul Brown (#20382) mentions in his excellent celebration of Patterson’s life and work here (Across the Blue Ridge – episode 95), many of the musicians recorded on both the Mountain and Heritage labels would not have been heard without Patterson’s dedication to recording and preserving this culture.  Patterson could also pick a bit himself, accompanying on a variety of instruments with a number of collaborators like Kyle Creed and the Camp Creek Boys, the Highlanders, Tommy Jarrell, and Fred Cockerham.  He later played regularly alongside his long-time musical partner Willard Gayheart, who offers his own recollections in the episode, which highlights not only Patterson’s playing, but a number of sessions recorded by him for the labels, and his documentation of performances at festivals and conventions throughout the region.

 

Album cover of the Heritage Records recording of the 1978 Brandywine Music Festival, showing a square dancing troupe
Heritage Records Release of the 1978 Brandywine Music Festival (Heritage Records #24); from the Norm Cohen Collection (#20480)

 

In 1987, Patterson was instrumental in launching the Old Time Herald (#20067) with founder and editor Alice Gerrard (#20006), a magazine that celebrates traditional music and dance, particularly in the southeastern United States, which still operates out of Durham.

SFC Curator Steve Weiss, AV Archivist Anne Wells, and I traveled to Galax in early Fall 2019 to pick up Patterson’s collection from the studio he built next to his home just outside Galax.  Our local guides Kilby Spencer and Mark Sanderford, without whom we would have struggled to navigate through this pickup, provided context to the collection and pointed out recordings and musicians that could be of particular significance. Steve and Anne assessed the condition of the different formats and began the organization process. I helped them pack, tote, and haul, and learned a great deal.

It was a rewarding and satisfying experience to work with these colleagues and friends, reminding me why we do what we do, and reinforcing the importance of this work, preserving not only the physical materials but the spirit they capture.  We would also like to thank Kelley Breiding, and—most of all—Janice Patterson, for their support of this project.

a guitar and two banjos leaning up against a desk in Patterson's studio
The house instruments of Patterson’s studio

We are happy and honored to host the Bobby Patterson Collection (#20574) at the SFC.

View of the Blue Ridge Mountains, outside Galax, VA

Ella May Wiggins and Depression-Era Textile Worker Ballads in North Carolina, Part 2

Record label for 78RPM record. Text reads: Paramount, Electrically Recorded. 3194-B. Vocal, Instrumental Acc. The North Carolina Textile Strike (McGhee). Martin Brothers. Bottom of label reads: "The New York Recording Laboratories - Port Washington, Wis-Trade Mark Registered."
In addition to the intrepid works of Ella May Wiggins, conflicts at textile mills in North Carolina in the late 1920s inspired quite a bit of commercially released labor songs relating specifically to textile work. The working class’ struggles with their employers immediately surrounding the depression were so pervasive that labels became interested in releasing strike songs due to high demand for this material – even if the artists releasing the music had little stake or political affiliation with the striking community. Regardless, many of the songs had a sympathetic attitude and stood in solidarity with laborers.
One such example is Welling and McGhee’s “The North Carolina Textile Strike”/”Marion Massacre,” available in the SFC as 78-16684.

Ronald D. Cohen (who has his own SFC collection) writes in his 2016 book Depression Folk: Grassroots Music and Left-Wing Politics in 1930s America:

“The prolific duo of Frank Welling, a vaudeville entertainer, and John McGhee, a lay preacher, using the name the Martin Brothers, composed and recorded “The Marion Massacre”/“North Carolina Textile Strike” for Paramount in 1929. They had no political agenda but used the strike to create event songs to sell records, a common strategy at the time.”

My hope was to make a transfer of this recording to share as part of this blog post. However, I noticed a severe crack in the disc. Occasionally it’s possible to play back a disc with a minor crack, but attempting to play back this one would have potentially damaged the media, or lobbed off the tip of the playback stylus. There are various ways to play back broken and cracked discs – optical playback systems and scanners have become more accessible in recent years – but our audio preservation priorities are typically dedicated to materials not already commercially available.

Record label for 78RPM record. Text reads: Paramount, Electrically Recorded. 3194-A. Vocal, Instrumental Acc. Marion Massacre (McGhee). Martin Brothers. Bottom of label reads: "The New York Recording Laboratories - Port Washington, Wis-Trade Mark Registered."
Arrow showing crack in SFC 78-16684, “Marion Massacre”/”The North Carolina Textile Strike”.

Fortunately, there was an easy solution: The Archie Green Collection (20002) already contained an audiotape transfer of this disc – alongside many other labor songs about textile work and accompanying papers. These are available as FT 188-90 and folder 397, respectively. While not of equivalent quality of a modern preservation transfer, this copy contains an acceptable level of intelligibility.
Document containing field notes about Archie Green Collection material. Text: Side A 1. “Cotton Mill Colic.” David McCarn, Victor V-40274-A. 2. “Poor Man, Rich Man” (“Cotton Mill Colic, No. 2”). David McCarn, Victor 23506-B. 3. “Cotton Mill Blues.” Lester “The Highwayman” (Lester Pete Bivins), Decca 5559 A (64111). 4. “The Weavers Blues.” Jimmie Tarlton, Victor 23700. 5. “Weaver’s Life.” Dixon Brothers (Howard and Dorcey), Bluebird B 7802-A. 6. “Weave Room Blues.” Dixon Brothers (Howard and Dorcey), Bluebird B 6441 B. 7. “Weave Room Blues.” Fisher Hendly (and His Aristocratic Pigs), Vocalion 04780. 8. “Cotton Mill Blues.” Lee Brothers Trio, Brunswick 501 (ATL 6669). 9. “Cotton Mill Girl.” Lester Smallwood, Victor V-40181-B. 10. “Serves ‘Em Fine.” Dave (McCarn) and Howard (Long), Victor 23577-B. 11. “Cotton Mill Blues.” Wilmer Watts and the Lonely Eagles, Paramount 3254-B (1905 on label and wax, 2460 A on wax only). 12. “Cotton Mill Girl.” Earl McCoy and Jessie Brook, Columbia 15499-D (W 149393). 13. “Cotton Mill Blues.” Daddy John Love, Bluebird B 6491-B. 14. “Spinning Room Blues.” Dixon Brothers (Howard and Dorsey), Montgomery Ward 7024. 15. “Lint-Head Stomp.” Pheble Wright, Essex 1113-A (PW-2). 16. “Cotton Mill Man.” Jim and Jesse McReynolds, Epic 5-9676. Side B 1. “Marion Massacre.” Martin Brothers (Welling and McGhee), Paramount 3194. 2. “North Carolina Textile Strike.” Martin Brothers (Welling and McGhee), Paramount 3194. 3. “Little Cotton Mill Girl.” Bob Miller, Okeh 54575.
Field notes containing track listing for tape transfer of textile labor song 78s.

 

Ella May Wiggins and Depression-era Textile Worker Ballads in North Carolina Part 1

Page from the Working Women's Music songbook featuring "The Mill Mother's Lament" words and music
“The Mill Mother’s Lament” words and music found in the Working Women’s Music: The Songs and Struggles of Women in the Cotton Mills, Textile Plants and Needle Trades by Evelyn Alloy from the Irwin Silber Papers.

Today marks the 90th anniversary of the June 7th, 1929 violence at the Loray Mill Strike in Gastonia, North Carolina. The strike started in April of 1929 with the arrival of the National Textile Workers Union. The workers at the mill began striking for their demands. On June 7th sheriff’s deputies raided tents set up near the mill by striking workers. Violence ensued, and Police Chief Orville Aderholt was killed.  
Just a few months after the culmination of the Loray Mill Strike, in September of 1929, Ella May Wiggins, a 29-year-old working mother and strike organizer, was killed by a mob of men trying to run the strikers out of town. The union was preparing for a large rally at which Ella May Wiggins would sing her ballads. On the way to the meeting, Ella May and other union members were attacked by anti-strikers. Ella May was one of many mill women and girls who protested the working conditions, hours and little pay in the Gaston County Mills in 1929. Often overlooked, the women working in the mills had a huge impact on the future of labor organizing in the South.  
Front cover of Working Women's Music songbook
Cover of Working Women’s Music: The Songs and Struggles of Women in the Cotton Mills, Textile Plants and Needle Trades by Evelyn Alloy from the Irwin Silber Papers.

Ella May’s legacy lives on in the protest songs and ballads she wrote and sang. Her most popular protest song is “Mill Mother’s Lament,” a ballad covered by Pete Seeger on the album American Industrial Ballads
American Industrial Ballads by Pete Seeger LP Cover
Cover of American Industrial Ballads from the commercial albums selection in the Southern Folklife Collection.

American Industrial Ballads track listing on record
Track listing of American Industrial Ballads featuring Pete Seeger’s cover of “Mill Mother’s Lament” written by Ella May Wiggins.

She also penned songs such as “The Big Fat Boss and the Worker” and “Up in Old Loray,” that were sung at union meetings and rallies. Some accounts say that Ella May did not write “Up in Old Loray,” but the lyrics in the Archie Green Collection have Ella May credited as the writer. Handwritten and typed copies of the lyrics to a few of her songs can be found in the Archie Green Papers. 
Big Boss Man lyrics typed out
Lyrics to Ella May Wiggins’ “The Big Fat Boss and the Worker” from the Archie Green Papers.

Up in Old Loray lyrics type out
Lyrics to Up in Old Loray from the Archie Green Papers.

Many of the mill workers that fought for better working conditions during the strikes in 1929 will go unnamed. We are lucky to have Ella May’s songs as a reminder of her spirit and tenacity.
If you are looking to learn even more about Ella May Wiggins, check out The Southern Historical Collection’s oral histories of Ella May’s daughters, Millie Wiggins Wandell and Charlotte Wiggins. These tapes were digitized and are streaming online thanks to our generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
 
Cox, Annette. “The Saga of Ella May Wiggins.” Southern Cultures, The University of North Carolina Press, 4 Oct. 2015, muse.jhu.edu/article/594509. Web. 7 June 2019. 
Huber, Patrick. “Mill Mother’s Lament: Ella May Wiggins and the Gastonia Textile Strike of 1929.”Southern Cultures, vol. 15, no. 3, 2009, pp. 81-110. Web. 7 June 2019. 
Jones, Loyal. “On the Death of Union Organizer and Balladeer Ella May Wiggins, A Tale of Two Families.” Review of BookAppalachian Journal, vol. 43, no. 3-4, 2016, pp. 252–262. Web. 7 June 2019. 
McShane, Chuck. “Tar Heel History: The Loray Mill Strike.” Our State Magazine, 17 May 2015, www.ourstate.com/loray-mill-strike/. Web 7 June 2019.

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)

Holiday In the Stacks: The Prairie Ramblers 16 inch transcription disc edition

Standard Library Transcription disc label, red, blue and white, song titles.
Cover of Prairie Ramblers songbook. Image of group in red.For your holiday listening pleasure, we pulled the Standard Program Library 16-inch transcription disc pictured above, call number TR1181 from the Southern Folklife Collection Transcription Discs (#30024), by the excellent Prairie Ramblers. The group coalesced in the 1930s appearing on numerous radio stations before settling down at WLS in Chicago. Featuring mandolinist Charles Chick Hurt, bassist “Happy” Jack Taylor, fiddler Tex Atchison, and Floyd “Salty” Holmes, a multi-instrumentalist and master of the harmonica, the group rose to fame after partnering up with a young Patsy Montana. Comfortable jumping from old-time stringband music, to country, to western swing, they went on to appear in numerous cowboy films with Gene Autry and other singing cowboys before splitting up for good in 1947 (well after Montana left to pursue her solo career). There is some excellent biographical information in the Prairie Ramblers Barn Dance Favorites, FL-506 in the Southern Folklife Collection Song Folios (30024). But back to the disc, here are a couple of holiday toe tappers to cut your cookies to:

Listen to “Christmas Chimes”:

Lyrics:
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Ringing so sweet and so clear
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Telling of joy and good cheer
When sleigh bells chime at Christmas time
For sparkling snow their music sings
They tell again that story old
Of peace on earth, good will to men
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Ringing so sweet and so clear
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Telling of joy and good cheer
The church bells ring their message plain
Upon the clear and frosty air
They voice the hope on Christmas day
That love may conquer everywhere
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Ringing so sweet and so clear
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Telling of joy and good cheer

Listen to “Cowboy Santa Claus”:

Lyrics:
We're going to have a sagebrush Santa
He's coming in from Santa Fe
He's a rootin' tootin' rounder
He rides a bronc and not a sleigh
He totes a .44 and a big white hat
And he shoots from where he draws
He's a singin', swingin'
Rawhide slingin', cowboy Santa Claus
Cowbells, cowbells, ringing on the range
Ringing out a melody over the golden plains
Cowbells, cowbells, ringing out because
Everyone is welcoming our cowboy Santa Claus

Inside cover of Prairie Ramblers songbook. Image collage of group with text.
Centerfold of Prairie Ramblers songbook. Image collage of group with text.