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.

AV Preservation Project Team Spotlight: Anne Wells

As of late 2015, SFC’s audiovisual preservation and access project team has grown to include three new members! To welcome them, I will be highlighting their work through a series of posts, starting with our AV Archivist, Anne Wells.
Anne is charged with increasing access to SFC collections, old and new, through the development of item level finding aids (for reference, check out the McCabe’s Guitar Shop Collection).  Currently, only 30% of SFC collections containing audiovisual materials are described through these finding aids, making the work Anne carries out extremely important to the visibility of SFC holdings. Additionally, as the primary location for streaming our digitized content, the increase in finding aids will allow us to serve more recordings to our patrons and the general public.
For this post I asked Anne to describe the type of work she is currently taking on…
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As Erica mentioned, I have been primarily working with SFC’s finding aids since I began last November. These finding aids provide comprehensive overviews of SFC’s unique collections. Thus far, I have spent the majority of my time cleaning up previously made finding aids, or more specifically, EAD XML schema, to make sure they meet specific requirements necessary for the linking of streaming digital access copies. During this process I have also created a standardized language to describe SFC’s audio visual items, including consistent descriptions of format, length, playback attributes and credits, when known.
I have also been lucky enough to get my hands on some of SFC’s AMAZING collections. For instance, I processed the McCabe’s Guitar Shop Collection, which includes over 2,000 live concert recordings on ¼” open reel, audiocassette, DAT and CD. I accessioned the collection, arranged the materials chronologically by format, and created a new item level finding aid for the collection. Just to give you a sense of the large scope of the collection, here’s a cropped glance at some of the audiocassettes within the collection:
McCabes_1
And here’s a personal favorite found in the collection:
McCabes_2
I am now transitioning into mostly creating new SFC finding aids from scratch. I find this kind of work super rewarding, since I personally have a hand in making these collections known and available to the general public for the first time. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on these new finding aids as they become published.
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Prior to Anne’s arrival, significant work was put into developing a prioritization model for SFC collections, both for digitization and description. In considering the number of variables that make a collection a high priority, a questionnaire was developed to rate collections on certain factors, including the following factors:

  1. Percentage of formats at risk of deterioration or obsolescence in the collection (including lacquer discs, polyester-based audiotape, and 2” Quadruplex video)
  2. Percentage of unique recordings in the collection
  3. Research value
  4. Previous or expected requests and use by patrons
  5. Previous digitization work
  6. Use and access restrictions

Using the questionnaire, we were able to determine a top-13 list to be prioritized for digitization and access. Fortunately, we found that a number of the collections had already seen some level of attention, so currently we are focusing on completing their digitization, while Anne polishes their finding aids.
Look out for more content in the following collections in the near future:
Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project
Anne Romaine
David and Beverly Patterson
George Hamilton IV
Tom Davenport
Guy and Candie Carawan
Bob Carlin
Archie Green
Mike Seeger
Goldband Recording Corporation
William R. Ferris
Eugene Earle