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

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.

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.

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/

 

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.