Elizabeth Cotten: Resource and Subject Guide

Elizabeth Cotten holding her guitar, Larry Ellis on the left
Elizabeth Cotten holding her guitar, Larry Ellis on the left. Photo from Mike Seeger Collection. (PF-20009/23)

With the recent announcement of Elizabeth Cotten’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I thought today would be the perfect time to release this resource guide. So much of the writing about Elizabeth Cotten is marred by misogynoir – the combination of sexism and racism. Music writers often underplay Cotten’s musical and technical skill, instead describing her as gentle and humble. Many of these writings also focus on her childhood and then skip to her musical career, avoiding discussion of the first half of her life doing housework for white families. While her style and repertoire has influenced many other musicians, she remains underappreciated and undervalued. There are not enough secondary sources about her life and music, and I hope this blog post can be a starting guide for anyone interested in researching and writing about her.

In addition to this resource, check out the the Southern Folklife Collection’s special event from 2020,”When I’m Gone: Remembering Folk Icon Elizabeth Cotten”, featuring Elizabeth Cotten’s family, Yasmin Williams and Alice Gerrard. 

Unless otherwise noted, the following biographical details and quotes interspersed throughout this blogpost come from the album notes from Elizabeth Cotten Vol. 3: When I’m Gone. The quotes are taken from interviews with Elizabeth Cotten conducted by Alice Gerrard and Mike Seeger throughout the 1960s and 1970s. You can read the full album notes here or listen to the original interviews in the Alice Gerrard and Mike Seeger collections linked below.

Black and white photo of Elizabeth Cotten as a young woman, sitting in grass with her legs crossed and her hands behind her head.
Elizabeth Cotten (PF-20009/16). in the Mike Seeger Collection #20009, Southern Folklife Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Elizabeth Cotten’s mother, Louisa Price Nevills was from Siler City, North Carolina and came from a farming family but she worked as a midwife and did housework. Cotten recalls that all of her uncles on her mother’s side played fiddle and her mother would sing old songs such as “The Man is Burning” and “Hallelujah T’is Done.” The name Nevills came from the enslavers of Cotten’s father’s family. Her father, George Nevills came from Chatham County, made liquor and worked in an iron mine as a dynamite settler. He died early in Elizabeth Cotten’s life and some of her fondest memories of him include braiding his hair with her sister. 

As a child, Elizabeth Cotten (born 1893 in Chapel Hill, N.C.) always loved music and was especially drawn to organ and piano. She recounts a man who lived nearby her childhood home who played guitar:

“He let the children come when he’d have this music, and dance in his yard…That’s where I learned how to dance, waltz and two-step, do the cakewalk, Frisco… buck dance. And I just danced my little head off…  My brothers were there and we’d all dance together, my sister, me, and my brother… In the band they had some kind of horns, the drum, and this big, old guitar – double bass thing.”

Since the banjo and guitar were the instruments around, those were the instruments she taught herself to play. She would stay up all night practicing. Cotten went to school until 4th grade and generally liked it but eventually had to start making her own money, earning $0.75 per month which she saved up to buy her own guitar. 

After Elizabeth Cotten was baptized at around 14 years old, the church told her she couldn’t play the “worldly songs” she had been playing on guitar. She explains,“I didn’t stop all at once ‘cause I couldn’t. I loved my guitar too good. And then it weren’t too long ‘til I got married and that helped me to stop because then I started housekeeping”. When she was 15, she married Frank Cotten and had her only child at age 16. During this time she still lived with her mother and sister while her husband worked in New York as a chauffeur. She moved between Chapel Hill, New York and D.C. primarily doing housework for white families. When her daughter got married, she divorced Frank. In interviews with Alice Gerrard, she talks about how hard domestic work was:

“I worked awfully hard there because she liked you to wash her floors and things on your knees. And she had plenty of floors for you to wash… had me crawlin’ on my knees savin’ her boards in her house– and the house is there yet. She says, “Elizabeth, you put your detergent in this bucket, [and] this is the bucket of clean water…” and I, fool, did exactly what she said. I would wash the floor, wipe it up with that rag, put that in the bucket, then over here I’d take my clean water and wipe and rinse my cloth in that. And I’d do that from her attic all the way downstairs…”

Elizabeth Cotten didn’t start working as a musician until the late 1950s, when she was in her sixties. While continuing to do house work, she recorded her first album in 1957 with the help of Mike Seeger. There are many retellings of how Elizabeth Cotten met the Seeger family which you can read about in other publications. By the time she was in her seventies, she had a solo career, performing at the top folk venues and folk festivals. She became most well known for her composition “Freight Train”, which she wrote as a tween in Chapel Hill. Cotten didn’t receive any royalties or credit for the song until a lawsuit that still only gave her one third credit (you can hear her family talk about this in an interview from the McCabe Guitar Shop Collection). When she was in her eighties, she was still working as a musician and won a Grammy for Best Ethnic and Traditional Recording in 1984 at age 91. That same year she was named as a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow. She is a 2022 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

“I love to feel independent, I do… I feel good. I’m proud of myself. I didn’t know I could do all these things that I’m starting and the more I think about it the more I think I can do it.” 

Archival collections with significant amounts of materials related to Elizabeth Cotten:

Mike Seeger Collection, 1923-2013 (20009)

Given the close connection with the Seeger family, the Mike Seeger collection holds many recordings of Elizabeth Cotten playing in both formal and informal settings, as well as a handful of photos. Recordings include live shows, practice tapes, and interviews. The Smithsonian Folkways LPs and CDs also come from this collection. 

Two clips from SFC Audio Cassette FS-20009/12936

St. Louis Blues, Elizabeth Cotten with Mary Jefferson singing. January, 1979. 

Rueben’s Train, Elizabeth Cotten with unidentified singer. January, 1979.

Alice Gerrard Collection, circa 1872-2009 (20006)

Alice Gerrard considered Elizabeth Cotten a friend in addition to having toured with her and interviewed her. Gerrard’s collection includes recorded interviews, informal recorded music and several photographs. The conversational interviews between Cotten and Gerrard are particularly moving, talking about childbirth, domestic house work and dealing with racist encounters.

“You could watch a person the way the act, and that makes you uncomfortable. Sometimes the act might not be towards you, but if you’re the only one there you watch their actions. I’ve been in many a place and they ask you to eat, for an instance. And the way they ask and the way they do you say, “no thank you.” You might be hungry… It’s different with you. You’re white. And I’m Black. That gives me a different feeling. That makes me kind of watch them where you wouldn’t, see? It makes you watch people and know what they say and see if you think they mean it or not, you know? I know I’m Black, see, and the old way back times, the way white people treated Negroes… I heard my mama talk about it… And I think that growed up in the Black people by hearin’ about it through their parents or maybe their godmothers or their godfathers, whoever raise them. And it makes them have that little drawback kind of feelin’ that maybe you wouldn’t think about, see?  And that makes me sometimes sit – and I say nothin’, and they don’t know what I’m thinkin’. I’m thinkin’ deep… and I’m not sayin’ anything. And listening to what they say. And you can near about know which way to go – know whether to run or sit…” (6)

McCabe’s Guitar Shop Collection, 1967-2013 (20511)

McCabe’s Guitar Shop has hosted many legendary musicians, including Elizabeth Cotten. In this collection, you can watch a 7-part interview with Cotten and her family in 1984 conducted by Nancy Covey. The interview goes into Peter Paul and Mary taking credit for Elizabeth Cotten’s song “Freight Train.” You can also listen to recordings of Elizabeth Cotten performing at McCabe’s Guitar Shop throughout the 1970s and 1980s. 

North Carolina Folklore Broadcast Collection, 1976 (20105)

This collection contains several recordings from the North Carolina Folklife Festival (pre-curser to the Festival of the Eno) that Elizabeth Cotten performed at in 1976. 

Stefan Grossman Collection (20578)

Although this is a collection level finding aid, the collection does contain multiple items related to Elizabeth Cotten including videos of multiple performances by Elizabeth Cotten solo, with Mike Seeger and a guitar workshop with Elizabeth Cotten and John Fahey. Published versions of these are available through the UNC libraries (listed below). 

black and white photo of Elizabeth Cotten performing in a tent with her guitar.
Elizabeth Cotten performing. Photo by Steve Kruger in Baltimore, MD, 1972. From the Mike Seeger collection #20009, pf0018_0003.

Archival collections with more limited items related to Elizabeth Cotten:  

Highlander Research & Education Center’s Audiovisual materials, 1937-2008 (20361) 

The Highlander Research & Education Center comes with a long history of civil rights activism and education. This collection includes one video of Elizabeth Cotten performing.  

Pete Kuykendall Collection (20546)

Through the Kuykendall Collection finding aid, you watch Elizabeth Cotten perform on Pete Seeger’s TV show “Rainbow Quest” from the 1960s. This video is available for streaming on the UNC campus. A published version is available in the video resources below. Some clips are also available on YouTube. 

Sing Out! Collection, 1937-2014 (20550)

This collection includes a recording of a gospel workshop with Elizabeth Cotten, Janette Carter, Lily May Ledford and Ola Belle Reed in 1980. 

Paul Brown Collection, 1950-1999 (20382)

Paul Brown’s collection includes the “Libba Cotten Special”  episode of his NPR show “Across the Blue Ridge”  with recordings and interviews about her life and music.

Dick Waterman Collection, 1960-2003 (20533)

This collection contains several photographs of Elizabeth Cotten at festivals and venues suchs as Club 47 in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the Newport Folk Festival. 

Bill C. Malone Collection, 1950s-2016 (20315)

Music historian Bill C. Malone’s collection includes one recording from the Oklahoma State University Festival in 1972.

Gary Kenton Collection, 1971-1989 (20321)

This collection includes an audio recording of an undated telephone interview with Elizabeth Cotten by music journalist Gary Kenton. 

Alan Kanter Collection, 1972-2009 (20549)

Audio engineer Alan Kanter’s collection includes a recording of Elizabeth Cotten at the San Diego Folk Festival in 1977.

North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources Films, 1951- 1988 (20448)

This collection includes a 30-minute documentary titled Got to tell it: A tribute to Mahalia Jackson from 1983 about Mahalia Jackson and Elizabeth Cotten directed by Studs Terkel. 

Greenhill Family/FLi Artists/ Folklore Productions Collection, 1947- 2014 (20542)

This collection includes some photographs of Elizabeth Cotten and a recording of a live performance in 1978. 

Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project, 1965-1989 (20004) 

The SFCRP organized tours throughout the south with both Black and white musicians. Elizabeth Cotten participated in some of these tours and this collection includes her artist file with correspondences and publicity about her involvement with the project.

DK Wilgus Papers, 1883-1996 (20003)

This collection includes an artist file containing clippings and other items related to Elizabeth Cotten collected by folklorist DK Wilgus. 

“You know the tune and you just learn it. Just keep the tune in your mind and just keep on workin’ with it ‘til you get something. The way I do, I play it to my own sound, the way I think it sounds. If I’m playing a song and if I don’t quite know it, you could finish it off with some kind of sound. I just do it according to my sound… you just get a sound. You just put the sounds together and what sounds alright you just go on with it. And all of them little things you heard me playin’, that’s the way I got it. I don’t know nothing about no notes, I can’t read music. You just get a song and know it and just keep fooling around with it ‘til you get it to sound like you want it to sound. And whether it’s right or wrong I just go on with it if it sounds to suit me… I tried hard to play, I’m telling you. I worked for what I’ve got, I really did work for it.”

Archival collections and items without finding aids: 

National Public Radio Collection, 1975-1984

This collection includes interviews for profiles about various folk musicians, including Elizabeth Cotten. 

NC folklife festival and Alan Jabbour Folklife Section Collections (1974, 1976, 1978)

These recordings are from the NC folklife festivals in 1974, 1976, and 1978 that Elizabeth Cotten performed at.  

Folklife festival 1974:

https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb2454337 https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb2454111 

Folklife festival 1976:

https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb2454083 

Folklife festival 1978 :

https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb2454121 https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb2454295 

Elizabeth Cotten (right) and Bessie Jones (left) at the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife in 1969. From the Alice Gerrard Collection #20006, pf0076_0003.

Request copies at Wilson Library

Wilson Library FAQ page

Commercial video recordings in the library catalog: 

Cotten, Elizabeth, and Mike Seeger. Mike Seeger & Elizabeth Cotten. Sparta, NJ: Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop, 1991.

Cotten, Elizabeth, Mike Seeger, and Keith Newman. Ramblin’ Mike Seeger & Elizabeth Cotten. Sparta, NJ: Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop, 1991. 

Cotten, Elizabeth, Mike Seeger, and Mark Humphrey. Elizabeth Cotten with Mike Seeger. Sparta, N.J.: Vestapol Productions, 1994. 

Cotten, Elizabeth, and John Miller. The Guitar of Elizabeth Cotten. Sparta, NJ: Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop, 2002.

Cotten, Elizabeth, and Mike Seeger. Elizabeth Cotten: In Concert, 1969, 1978 & 1980. Place of publication not identified: Vestapol Productions, 2004.

Fuller, Jesse, and Elizabeth Cotten. Jesse Fuller and Elizabeth Cotton: Masters of the Country Blues. Newton, NJ: Yazoo Video, Division of Shanachie Records Corp, 1992.

Homemade American music.” Aginsky, Yasha, Carrie Aginsky, Mike Seeger, Alice Gerrard, Tommy Jarrell, Lily M. Ledford, Roscoe Holcomb, Elizabeth Cotten, Sonny Terry, Dewey Balfa, Dopsie Rockin’, Allie Young, Nathan Abshire, Tony Balfa, Raymond E. François, Dennis McGee, Wallace Read, Canray Fontenot, Leopold François, and Robert Jardell. Four American Roots Music Films. Sparta, N.J: Vestapol Productions, 2007.
16mm film print: Folkstreams.net Collection (Film F-20384/74)
Streaming: https://www.folkstreams.net/films/homemade-american-music

Me and Stella. Directed by Geri Ashur. Place of publication not identified: Phoenix Films, 1977.

Travis, Merle, Kirk McGee, Sam McGee, Mance Lipscomb, Roscoe Holcomb, Elizabeth Cotten, Doc Watson, Merle Watson, Josh White, Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry, and Gary Davis. Legends of Traditional Fingerstyle Guitar. Sparta, N.J.: Vestapol Productions, 2003. 

Wenders, Wim, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Richard Pearce, Charles Burnett, Marc Levin, Mike Figgis, Paul Allen, Jody Allen, and Ulrich Felsberg. The Blues, a Musical Journey. New York: Sony Music Entertainment, 2003. 

Commerical audio recordings in the library catalog: 

Cotten, Elizabeth. Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes. Recorded 1957-1958. Smithsonian Folkways, vinyl LP. 

Online version: (https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb6648585

Cotten, Elizabeth. Elizabeth Cotten: Vol. 2, Shake Sugaree. Recorded 1967. Folkways Records, vinyl LP. 

Cotten, Elizabeth, and Mike Seeger. Shake Sugaree. Recorded in 1965. Re-released in 2004. Smithsonian Folkways Records, compact disc.

Online version: (https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb6647067

Cotten, Elizabeth. Elizabeth Cotten: Vol. 3, When I’m Gone. Recorded 1979. Folkways Records, vinyl LP. 

Online version: (https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb6648426

Cotten, Elizabeth. Live. Recorded in 1983. Arhoolie Records, vinyl LP.

Ledford, Lily M, Ramona Jones, Ola B. Reed, Suzanne Thomas, Elizabeth Cotten, Janette Carter, and Rose Maddox. Women of Old Time Music. REcorded in 1981. Heritage Records, vinyl LP.

New Lost City Ramblers., Seeger, P., Cotten, E., & Highwoods String Band. 20th anniversary concert. Recorded in 1986. Flying Fish, vinyl LP. 

Online version. https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb6128401

Other repositories with related materials:

American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress 

Ralph Rinzler Collection at the Smithsonian 

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.

Ola Belle Reed: Resource and Subject Guide

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.

Ola Belle Reed: Subject Guide

There are numerous published recordings of Ola Belle Reed and her music, but biographical material outside of album liner notes are harder to find. The book Ola Belle Reed and Southern Mountain Music on the Mason-Dixon Line (2015) by Henry Glassie, Clifford R. Murphy and Douglas Dowling Peach is the only released biography of her life. The Southern Folklife Collection holds many resources relating to Reed, including the manuscript for her unpublished autobiography “High on a Mountain”.

This blogpost can serve as a starting guide to resources about Ola Belle Reed in the Southern Folklife Collection, UNC libraries, and beyond.

Ola Belle Reed, Brandywine Mountain Music Convention, 1974. From the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006)

Born in 1915 in Ashe County, North Carolina, Ola Belle Campbell Reed grew up in a large musical family. During the Depression, her family joined the many migrants moving from the Southern Mountains to more urban areas farther North. By the time she was a teenager, Reed was already performing with her brother in the North Carolina Ridge Runners. After marrying Bud Reed in 1949, Ola Belle, Bud and her brother Alex Campbell opened the New River Ranch music park which became a popular stop for bluegrass and country performers throughout the 1950s. Throughout the 1970s, Reed performed at many folk festivals and in 1986 was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship. She passed away in 2002 after thirteen years of illness. Reed’s prolific songwriting has endeared her to the country, bluegrass and old-time music communities where her songs are performed frequently.

Collections in the Southern Folklife Collection that include Ola Belle Reed:

Ola Belle Reed Collection

This collection primarily includes audio recordings, some news clippings and the manuscript for Reed’s unpublished autobiography. The audio recordings are a mixture of live performances and more intimate interviews, conversations and home music recordings. The conversation topics range from music, religion and politics to pollution, sex education, love and more. Reed’s unpublished autobiography, “High on a Mountain” was written with the help of David Reed and Josh Dunson.

Ola Belle singing “If I Could Read My Titles Clear”

Hazel Waltman and Ola Belle Reed. From the Mike Seeger Collection (#20009).

Ola Belle singing “Old Pal of Yesterday” with her old friend Hazel Waltman

Listen to the full tape here (SFC Audio Open Reel FT-20010/9663) 

Robert D. Bethke Collection

This collection includes four open reel recordings and two videos of Reed and her family from 1972.

Alice Gerrard Collection

This collection includes audio recordings from performances and parties and photographs of Ola Belle Reed, primarily from the New River Ranch Music Park in Rising Sun, Maryland that Reed ran with her husband Bud Reed. 

On the two clips below, you can hear Ola Belle Reed in a more casual setting at a party at George Holt’s house in Durham, North Carolina on November 2nd, 1986. The recording features Ola Belle with Alice Gerrard (guitar) and Andy Cahan (fiddle). 

Wild Bill Jones

What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul

Listen to the full tape here (SFC Audio Cassette FS-20006/8695)

Ola Belle Reed, Brandywine Mountain Music Convention, 1974. From the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006)

Mike Seeger Collection

This collection also includes audio recordings and photographs of Ola Belle Reed, primarily from the New River Ranch Music Park in Rising Sun, Maryland.

Standing from left: Lily May Ledford, Janette Carter, Ramona Jones, Ola Belle Reed, Rose Maddox. Seated: Elizabeth Cotten. From the Mike Seeger Collection (#20009_pf0072).

Eugene Earle Collection

The Eugene Earle collection contains several open reel recordings of Ola Belle including recordings from Sunset Park, New River Ranch and the Philadelphia Folk Festival. Ola Belle is spelled “Olabelle” in the collection. 

Pete Kuykendall Collection

Ola Belle Reed appears on two open reels in the Kuykendall collection, both at New River Ranch. SFC Audio Open Reel FT-20546/259 features Reno and Smiley with a brief appearance by Ola Belle reed and the New river Ranch Gang. SFC Audio Open Reel FT-20546/80 features the Monroe Brothers and others, including “Aunt Ola Bell”. An open reel for the Carter Stanley memorial concert also references Ola Belle’s band “The New River Boys.”

North American Traditions Collections 

This collection contains six sides of Reed’s recordings for the 1977 album Ola Belle Reed and Family, including several unissued cuts. 

William Ferris Collection

This collection includes photographs of Ola Belle Reed at Yale University in 1975-1978 and recordings from Calhoun college in 1975 and 1976. 

Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project

Correspondence, publicity, tour planning and photos related to Ola Belle Reed’s involvement with the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project, an organization that presented integrated concerts, tours and other events with Black and white musicians in the South during the late 1960s – 1980s.    

Mary Katherine Aldin Artist Files

This collection includes an artist file for Ola Belle Reed.

Sing Out! Collection

SFC Audio Cassette FS-20550/2: Gospel Workshop, 1980 with Ola Belle Reed, Janette Carter, Elizabeth Cotten and Lily May Ledford.

Festival of the Eno 1976 (from North Carolina Folklore Broadcast collection )

Ola Belle Reed performs at the 1976 Festival of the Eno in Durham, North Carolina.

North Carolina Folklife Festival in Durham (no finding aids) 

https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb2454121 

https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb2454111 

Ola Belle Reed’s Published Recordings available via UNC Libraries 

Ledford, Lily M, Ramona Jones, Ola B. Reed, Suzanne Thomas, Elizabeth Cotten, Janette Carter, and Rose Maddox. Women of Old Time Music. Galax, Va: Heritage Records, 1981. Sound recording. (https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb1968852 )

Reed, Ola B. Ola Belle Reed. Somerville, Mass: Rounder Records, 1973. Sound recording. ( https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb3694398

Reed, Ola B. Ola Belle Reed & Family. Somerville, Ma: Rounder Records, 1977. Sound recording. ( https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb3760572 )

Reed, Ola B, Bud Reed, and Kevin Roth. All in One Evening. New York: Folkways Records, 1978. Internet resource. ( https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb6647946 )

Reed, Ola B, Bud Reed, and David Reed. My Epitaph. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Folkways, 2001. Internet resource. ( https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb6646754

Reed, Ola B. Ola Belle Reed. Croton, N.Y.: Field Recorders’ Collective, 2005. Sound recording. (https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb7849893)

Reed, Ola B, Alex Campbell, Sonny Miller, Deacon Brumfield, and Paul Sidlick. Campbell’s Corner: The Ola Belle Reed – Alex Campbell Radio Shows. Place of publication not identified: Field Recorders’ Collective, 2009. Sound recording. (​​https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb7849907)

Reed, Ola B. Rising Sun Melodies. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Folkways, 2010. Sound recording. (https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb8619409

Compilations with the North Carolina Ridge Runners (available via UNC libraries & special collections)

Grayson, G B, Henry Whitter, Frank Blevins, Ephraim Woodie, and Jack Reedy. Music from the Lost Provinces. Raleigh, N.C: Old Hat, 1997. Sound recording. (https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb3813077

Authentic Rare Bluegrass Cuts. London, England: JSP Records, 2008. Sound recording. (https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb7868996 )

Books about Ola Belle Reed available via UNC Libraries 

Anderson-Green, Paula H. A Hot-Bed of Musicians: Traditional Music in the Upper New River Valley-Whitetop Region. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2002. Print.

Camp, Charles, and David E. Whisnant. “A Voice from Home: Southern Mountain Musicians on the Maryland-Pennsylvania Border.” Southern Exposure. 5 (1977): 2-3. Print.

Murphy, Clifford R, Henry Glassie, Douglas D. Peach, and Ola B. Reed. Ola Belle Reed and Southern Mountain Music on the Mason-Dixon Line., 2015. Print.

Fussell, Fred, Steve Kruger, and Cedric N. Chatterley. Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina: A Guide to Music Sites, Artists, and Traditions of the Mountains and Foothills., 2018. Print.

Henry, Murphy. Pretty Good for a Girl: Women in Bluegrass. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013. Print.

Other resources related Ola Belle Reed: 

UNC electronic resources for online newspaper, magazine, journal articles and reviews 

The Ola Belle Reed Collection at University of Maryland, Baltimore County:

Ola Belle Reed collection (umbc.edu)

Jason Pate Collection (University of Maryland, Baltimore County https://library.umbc.edu/speccoll/findingaids/coll123.php)

Information about an upcoming documentary, “I’ve Endured”: The music and legacy of Ola Belle Reed can be found here: https://mdfolklife.org/ive-endured-the-music-and-legacy-of-ola-belle-reed/

This 2005 blogpost by Stephen Winick at the American Folklife Center includes a list of Ola Belle Reed related collections housed at the AFC: https://blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2015/09/on-ola-belle-reed/ 

To end, here is a beautifully written quote from Cathy Fink about her experiences with Ola Belle Reed:

“A visit with Ola Belle was always an amazing experience. The door was open, soup was on the stove, and an afternoon of conversation and music always left you with a full feeling. A philosopher and a philanthropist of the heart, Ola Belle was always there to help out a kid in need or a musician getting their feet on the ground…Ola Belle was ready for the world to change during the civil rights movement. Her song “Tear Down the Fences” questions why we spend energy building fences and not bridges between us. She was a feminist before that movement ever took hold, penning a powerful song, “Only the Leading Role Will Do.” But most importantly, she was an egalitarian.”

Fink, Cathy. “Last Chorus: Ola Belle Reed – 1916-2002.” Sing Out, vol. 46, no. 4, 2003, pp. 27-29.

ICYMI – Folk Legacy Series: John Lee Hooker; Hazel & Alice

Early in November, the Southern Folklife Collection wrapped up its two-part Folk Legacy Series celebrating great legacies in American vernacular music.  The series was sponsored through generous support from the Martin Guitar Charitable Foundation.

You can view the recordings of both events below, or via UNC Libraries’ YouTube page.

In “Boom Boom! The Music of John Lee Hooker,” Alvin Youngblood Hart and Bobby Rush both gave foot stomping performances to boogie along to, and then, in a lively discussion with Wayne Goins, reflected on the career and influence of Hooker.

Our first event of the fall — “Won’t You Come and Sing For Me?  The Music of Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard” — featured a set from Tatiana Hargreaves and Alison DeGroot, followed by Dudley Connell and Sally Love Connell.  The evening finished with a roundtable discussion led by Laurie Lewis, and involving Gerrard, Peter Siegel – producer of the first Hazel & Alice record — Hargreaves, DeGroot, and Connell.

Thanks to all who joined us, and stay tuned for more SFC related content and events here on Field Trip South, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Boom Boom! The Music of John Lee Hooker

The Southern Folklife Collection and the University Libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are happy to invite you to a virtual event featuring performances and discussion celebrating the life of iconic Mississippi blues man John Lee Hooker.  Please join us Thursday, November 4 at 7pm Eastern.  Register for this free, live event here: go.unc.edu/JohnLeeHooker

The program will feature performances by Grammy Award winners Bobby Rush and Alvin Youngblood Hart, followed by Rush and Hart in conversation with Wayne Goins, Distinguished Professor of Music and director of jazz studies at Kansas State University. Goins is author of the liner notes to Ace Records box set “John Lee Hooker: Documenting the Sensation Recordings 1948-1952.

The Southern Folklife Collection is proud to hold a number of collections that document the life and work of John Lee Hooker, including audio and video recordings, interviews, and photographs.

The Rosebud Agency Collection , founded by Mike Kappus in 1976, represented Hooker for the latter part of his career, and includes a range of items from correspondence, publicity and promotional materials, as well as audio and video recordings.

The Stefan Grossman Collection has a number of Hooker highlights, from early to late career.  Check out this video of Hooker performing in 1960, from the “John Lee Hooker – Rare Performances 1960-1984” DVD, followed by an early 90s duet with Bonnie Raitt on “I’m In The Mood,” from the DVD “John Lee Hooker & Friends 1984-1992,” on Grossman’s Vestapol label.

For another side of Hooker, explore the Jas Obrecht Collection, among which are a number of interviews the former Guitar World editor conducted with the Blues legend.

Many thanks to the Martin Guitar Charitable Foundation for their support.  We hope to see you Thursday, November 4th at 7PM Eastern, for what promises to be an informative and inspiring program.

go.unc.edu/JohnLeeHooker

John Lee Hooker: Performing in studio. Photo by Riverside Records. John Edwards Memorial Foundation Collection (#20001)
This event is the second in the Southern Folklife Collection’s two-part Folk Legacy Series celebrating great legacies in American vernacular music.  The series is sponsored through generous support from the Martin Guitar Charitable Foundation. The first event, Won’t You Come and Sing for Me? The Music of Hazel and Alice, was October 14, 2021, which you can rewatch here: Won’t You Come and Sing for Me? The Music of Hazel and Alice

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.

Fiddle, Banjo, and Clay: North Carolina Folklife On Film

When AV Archivist Anne Wells wrote about the University Libraries receiving a preservation grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation in July 2019, we promised we would keep you updated on the process in getting the selected films restored and how we would be showing them.

We are happy to invite you to the second of our two virtual first-ever screenings of these films made possible by the grant, Tuesday, October 6th, at 7pm.  To view A.R. Cole, Potter, 1969, by Terry W. Rushin (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20402/), click the link below to register and join us for this wonderful short film covering a day in the life of ceramicist A.R. Cole and his family’s multi-generational pottery shop in Sanford, NC.

http://go.unc.edu/Clay

UNC student and frequent Field Trip South contributor, Hunter Randolph, will be presenting a short film he made, “Stories in the Clay: The Pottery & Poetry of Neolia Cole Womack,” and discussing the eastern Piedmont’s pottery traditions.

Revisit Anne’s excellent post about the grant award below.

University Libraries receives NFPF grant to preserve Southern Folklife Collection films

If you missed the screening of the first film (Jarrell and Cockerham, 1971, by Blanton Owen) last week, you can see the restored cut on the Southern Folklife Collection’s YouTube page here.

This film captures rare footage of old-time legends Tommy Jarrell on fiddle and Fred Cockerham on banjo, playing together on Cockerham’s front porch in Low Gap, North Carolina.

Original film elements found in the Blanton Owen Collection #20027 (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20027/), held by the SFC.

Laboratory film preservation work by Colorlab (http://colorlab.com/). Funding provided by the National Film Preservation Foundation (https://www.filmpreservation.org/).

Stay tuned for other virtual offerings coming up from the SFC and University Libraries.

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

First Impressions: June Appal Recordings


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, gray background with image of Nimrod Workman and Phyllis Boyens on a porch
Nimrod Workman & Phyllis Boyens, Passing Thru The Garden | FC-1286

June Appal Recordings was founded to release traditional and contemporary mountain music, recorded by and for the people of the Southern mountains near their Whitesburg, Kentucky home. At the time, it would have been difficult to find a more complete embodiment of that mission than Nimrod Workman and Phyllis Boyens. Nimrod Workman had been a mine worker, singer, and union activist in the mountains of West Virginia for over six decades by the time June Appal Recordings was created in 1974. Phyllis Boyens, Nimrod’s daughter, had been raised in that culturally rich environment and quickly took to the musical and activist inclinations of her parents and grandparents. Passing Thru The Garden marked the recorded debut of June Appal, Nimrod and Phyllis, the first example of the cross-generational efforts that would come to define June Appal as a label. Most of the songs on Passing Thru The Garden are credited as arranged by Nimrod Workman, and most are sung unaccompanied by instrumentation. Nimrod and Phyllis take many of the songs alone, while joining voices on others. Listen to excerpts of two tracks from the album, and read on below.
Here is an excerpt from Track 1, “I Am a Traveling Creature,” featuring both Nimrod and Phyllis:

Also listen to a clip from Track 10, “Oh Death,” featuring Phyllis Boyens with some spare instrumentation:


NIMROD WORKMAN

Nimrod is shown performing during a workshop with others seated around him
Nimrod was active with the Highlander Folk School, and he is pictured here (standing) at a 1972 workshop organized by the group. Photo by Doug Yarrow. Image Folder PF-20008/70 in the Guy and Candie Carawan Collection (20008).

Born in 1895 in Inez, Kentucky, Nimrod Workman moved to West Virginia to work in a coal mine at the age of 14. For the next 42 years, Workman continued to mine coal, until black lung and other injuries forced him to retire. He was an active union member and activist for worker’s rights from the early years of his career, but he became most well known later in life as a singer of unaccompanied ballads. Nimrod Workman was already 79 in 1974, the year his first album, Passing Thru The Garden, was released. While he was an active performer for the rest of his life, he recorded only one more album, Mother Jones’ Will, for Rounder Records in 1978. Workman continued to be associated with his career as a coal miner, frequently singing coal mining songs and contributing to different coal mining-related projects. He recorded several songs for Come All You Coal Miners, a collection of coal mining songs also produced by Rounder Records, and he appeared in the Academy Award-winning documentary Harlan County, USA.
His appearance in the acclaimed documentary, which followed the “Brookside Strike,” translated into a brief appearance in the 1980 Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter. In the film, Nimrod leads a group of mourners at a funeral in a rendition of “Amazing Grace.” The recording appears on the soundtrack to the movie, and Nimrod can be heard calling out each line before the rest of the crowd joins in. Listen to a brief clip from the song below:

At first glance, Workman’s appearance always seemed to announce his increasing age – from his uniquely dimpled cheeks to his tall and lanky frame. However, whenever Nimrod Workman sang or moved, he constantly betrayed just how young his spirit was. To help demonstrate that trademark youthfulness, below is a clip from Carry It On, a nine-part series produced by the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project in 1984 and aired on PBS. In the clip, Nimrod states his age (“87 in years, 18 in feelings”) and demonstrates to his daughter Phyllis Boyens and host Mike Seeger how to do the “frog walk.” The full video, VT-20004/21 in the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection (20004) is streaming through UNC libraries here.


Phyllis boyens

Promotional photograph of Nimrod Workman and Phyllis Boyens. P-2992a in the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection (20004).

Phyllis Boyens-Liptak was born Phyllis Workman in 1947 in West Virginia, one of the youngest of Mollie and Nimrod Workman’s 13 children. Raised by musical parents, she quickly took to singing the songs that her father sang, and frequently accompanied him in casual venues and on tour. 1974’s Passing Thru the Garden was, like her father, also Phyllis’s first album. Also like Nimrod, Phyllis only recorded one more album, the 1983 solo outing I Really Care. Phyllis was active in the same musical and activist groups as her father, contributing songs to albums like They’ll Never Keep Us Down: Women’s Coal Mining Songs and touring with the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project. Although she did not have a prolific recording career, she maintained an active presence in the folk music world, and she also expanded into the world of acting. Phyllis had appeared in the documentary Harlan County, U.S.A. alongside her father, and attention from that appearance helped her land a supporting role as Loretta Lynn’s mother in the film Coal Miner’s Daughter
Phyllis’s mother Mollie Workman was also an accomplished singer, as she demonstrates in this field recording made by Mark Wilson for Rounder Records’ “North American Traditions Series.” In this clip from FT-20503/16073, Mollie Workman sings “I’m Going Back With Jesus When He Comes” unaccompanied:


THE label

The Appalachian Film Workshop was founded in 1969 in Whitesburg, Kentucky, part of the United States government’s legislative War on Poverty. Federal funding helped create several of these community workshops, which aimed to provide access to film production training and education in impoverished areas. In 1974, the organization underwent a few major changes, diversifying beyond film production and evolving into an independent nonprofit company. Around this time, the name of the organization was shortened to Appalshop, reflecting broader goals and a new direction.
These 1974 changes included the creation of June Appal Recordings, a record label within Appalshop. The goals of this new label reflected those of Appalshop as a whole – producing content for, by, and about the people that live in Appalachia. The June Appal discography includes Kentuckians like Buell Kazee, I.D. Stamper, and Nimrod Workman, but it also includes a broad range of traditional and contemporary folk musicians from across the U.S. June Appal has maintained a relatively steady pace since 1974, releasing more than 80 albums on LP, CD, or cassette in the past 45 years since its founding. Some of that discography is still available through the June Appal portion of Appalshop’s website, found here.

four covers of recording catalogs, illustrates different June Appal logos over time
These four recording catalogs show different June Appal logos over the years, all emphasizing their focus on “Music From the Southern Mountains.”  Folder 275 in the Art Menius Papers (20406).

June Appal Recordings is unique among its contemporary independent record labels for many reasons, chief among them being its origins within a cooperative nonprofit company. Due to these unique beginnings, there are no individual founders widely credited with the creation of June Appal Recordings. However, there were of course individuals involved in the creation and maintenance of June Appal from its beginnings, including: Rich Kirby, who produced many records on the label and recently retired from Appalshop’s Mountain Community Radio station, and Jack Wright, who recorded on June Appal with The Payroll Boys, produced a film for Appalshop, and ultimately became a professor of film.


THE Southern folk cultural revival project

The Nashville-based Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project (SFCRP) was founded in 1966 by musicians and activists Anne Romaine and Bernice Johnson Reagon. The primary goal of the SFCRP was to “present traditional musicians from black and white cultures in performance together at a time when this was considered controversial.” In pursuit of that goal, the group recruited a large number of musicians, including Nimrod Workman and Phyllis Boyens, to perform on tour together. However, the work of Romaine and the SFCRP extended far beyond these tours. One such endeavor was the production of a nine-part series on traditional music that aired on PBS in 1984, Carry It On. Each episode of Carry It On consisted of interviews with and performances by traditional musicians. Nimrod Workman and Phyllis Boyens are featured in an episode of the series on mountain ballads. A videotape recording of the episode, VT-20004/21 in the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection (20004), is streaming through UNC Libraries here. Watch two brief clips from the episode below, featuring Nimrod and Phyllis singing “Passing Through The Garden” together and Nimrod singing “Burglar Man” alone:


APPALSHOP FILMS

Appalshop, true to its origins, is perhaps best known for the films it produces as Appalshop Films. Appalshop’s current website hosts over 80 films, ranging from narrative features to documentaries on a wide range of subjects. There are documentaries on craftspeople, like 1976’s Quilting Women and 1980’s Oaksie, about eastern Kentucky basket maker, fiddler, and harp player Oaksie Caudill. There are activist documentaries and documentaries on activists and protests, like 1995’s Justice in the Coalfields and 1992’s Belinda, about Kentucky AIDS prevention and education activist Belinda Mason.
One of the largest shares of the Appalshop filmography, however, is occupied by music documentaries, following performers and traditions rooted in Appalachia. These include works on Sarah Ogan Gunning, John Jacob Niles, Lily May Ledford, Ralph Stanley, Hazel Dickens, and Nimrod Workman. In 1975, the year after the release of Passing Thru The Garden, Appalshop released To Fit My Own Category, a 35 minute documentary following Nimrod Workman. Directed by Scott Faulkner and Anthony Slone, the black and white film features interview and everyday footage and incorporates Workman’s music. Watch a brief trailer for To Fit My Own Category below, and stream the entire film for free on Appalshop’s website.


ROADSIDE THEATER AND THE LOCAL CONNECTION

Appalshop also created several other prominent divisions beyond June Appal Recordings, including the Appalshop Archive, the Appalachian Media Institute, Culture Hub, Roadside Theater, and Mountain Community Radio (WMMT 88.7). Roadside Theater, one of the earliest new divisions of Appalshop, shares the spirit of the original film workshop and June Appal Recordings. Focused on providing a platform for young people in Appalachia to tell the stories of their lives, Roadside Theater is “a company of unreconstructed Appalachians who make stories out of the kind of history ‘that generally never gets written down.'” The group began by producing and maintaining a repertoire of Appalachia-centered plays, like South of the Mountain, Brother Jack, Red Fox/Second Hangin’, and Mountain Tales. Written by and starring members of the troupe, these productions would tour around the country, visiting schools and larger performance venues along the way. The below article from the April 3, 1987 issue of the Durham Morning Herald describes a Roadside Theater stop in Carrboro that day. Sponsored by The Arts Center in Carrboro, the group was set to offer a workshop on “Storytelling from Oral History” and perform South of the Mountain at Carrboro Elementary School. Roadside Theater continues to produce and perform new plays, and more of their work and history is available here.

newspaper article describing a Roadside Theater stop in Carrboro in 1987
This clipping from the April 3, 1987 Durham Morning Herald contains an article titled “‘Roadside’ Brings Mountains To Stage.” The photo features Roadside members Ron Short, Nancy Jeffrey, and Tom Bledsoe. Folder 275 in the Art Menius Papers (20406).


SHOW ME MORE!

There are an abundance of materials related to June Appal Recordings, Appalshop, Nimrod Workman and Phyllis Boyens, and the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project in the Southern Folklife Collection, as well as an extensive portion of the June Appal catalog on LP and CD. Check out a few other items of interest below or search the collection yourself.

cover of a newspaper featuring a picture of Nimrod Workman at the Kentucky Folk Festival
This June 10, 1973 edition of The Courier-Journal & Times features “Kentucky Folk Festival is fun,” an article on the 1973 Kentucky Folk Festival in Lexington. The photo on right, by Pam Spaulding, shows Nimrod Workman dancing for an audience at the festival. Folder 676 in the Guy and Candie Carawan Collection (20008).

poster for the Jubilee Festival features a photograph of Mollie and Nimrod Workman
This poster for the 18th Annual Jubilee Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, features Mollie and Nimrod Workman, advertising a “special tribute” to the couple. Folder 676 in the Guy and Candie Carawan Collection (20008).

Promotional photograph of Nimrod Workman. P-2993a in the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection (20004).

Nimrod Workman performing at the 1985 Tennessee Grassroots Days. Photo by David Hildebrand. P-2995 in the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection (20004).

A group photo of Nimrod Workman and other traditional musicians
This photo features Nimrod Workman singing with several other prominent traditional musicians. From left: Tillman Cadle, Lois Short, Sarah Ogan Gunning, Nimrod Workman, Hazel Dickens, Goerge Tucker. PF-20008/63 in the Guy and Candie Carawan Collection (20008).