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.

 

Recent disc acquisitions from the Lloyd Perryman Collection

Recently digitized here at SFC are a selection of discs of various shapes and sizes  from the Lloyd Perryman Collection (20456).

The audio recordings in the collection consist primarily of “radio shows, compilations, songs, and public service announcements by Sons of the Pioneers, Lloyd Perryman, Rex Allen, Rusty Richards, The Whippoorwills, and others.”

Here’s an excerpt from Instantaneous Disc, call number FD-20456/4, “Bowleg Bill and the Humpback Whale,” a novelty song that tells the tale of a seafaring cowboy of sorts in pursuit of a large aquatic mammal he’s not particularly fond of.

Record Label with sticker on label. Reads “Harmony Recorders, 1479 N. Vine St. Hollywood 28, Calif. Bowleg Bill and the Humpback Whale (Oliver-Shapiro).” Sticker reads “Leeway Music, 4042 Benedict Canyon Dr. Sherman Oaks, Calif.”

Also in the collection is radio transcription disc call number FD-20456/63 from the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign, in which Roy Rogers, Pat Brady, and The Sons get into a caper with an enemy as usual – this time, though, it’s a forest fire. The disc includes the Sons’ classic “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds” among others, but somewhat unique is their bespoke Smokey the Bear jingle.

Record Label, text with picture of Smokey the Bear. Reads “Cooperative Forest Fire Campaign, Platter 16, Side 1, 33 1/3 R.P.M. ‘Rodeo Roundup’ featuring Roy Rogers and Pat Brade with The Sons of the Pioneers (4 1/2 minutes), Cut #2 spot (Roy Rogers) 1 minute, Cut #3 spot (Roy Rogers) 1 minute. Sponsored by State Foresters and Forest Service, U.S. Dept. Of Agriculture. A Public Service Program of the Advertising Council.”

These discs and more items from the collection will be but a few showcased as part an event to celebrate recent acquisitions at Wilson Special Collections Library from 5:00-730PM, Thursday, April 4 in the Fearrington Reading Room.

During this open-house event, Library staff members will guide you in an up-close experience with rare and one-of-a-kind items from the North Carolina Collection, Rare Book Collection, Southern Folklife Collection, Southern Historical Collection and University Archives.

From a miniature Renaissance manuscript to items from the papers of legendary Tar Heel coach Dean Smith, these are the items that help to define Carolina’s libraries, making them a point of pride and a destination for research, learning and wonder.

We hope to see you then!

A witches’ spell has been cast on SFC!

Happy Halloween from the Southern Folklife Collection at Wilson Special Collections Library!

A few items in the collection allude to witchcraft – we were delightfully frightened to find a selection of ghost stories told by Ollie and Roy Coleman in Iredell County, N.C., and caught on tape by folklore student Connie Jean Stone in March of 1975. This item can be found at call number FT-354 in the Connie Jean Stone Collection (20247).Packaging for tape media, reads: "North Carolina Archives of Folk Lore and Music - Connie Jean Stone Collection - Ghost and Witch Tales - Told by Ollie and Roy Coleman - Recorded in Iredell County, N.C. in March 1975. Dubbings from cassette originals. Submitted in Folk 186 and 187, with transcriptions in termpapers.

One creepy story tells the tale of a witch who seems to have cast a spell on a poor dairy cow, cursing and drying the bewildered bovine’s milk supply. Below you can find a clip of the recording, as well as transcription from the original field notes submitted by Ms. Stone. Notes are in folder 421 in the Southern Folklife Collection Field Notes (30025):

My Grandma, once upon a time was a-lettin' a witch have milk, you know. And uh the cow got low on hermilk and couldn't givetoo much, so she told the witch one evening when she came after milk that she couldn't have no more -- until the cow picked back up on her milk. And the witch said, "Alright." She went on home, and started down the path and that cow followed her up just as far as she'd go, to the end of the fence. That night the cow wouldn't giveno milk. So Grandpa told Grandma to milk her and to get a skillet and pour the milk in -- there o'er the fireplace, and boil it and peck it with a reap hook -- and when it got ready to boil, to turn it over into the fireplace. And she had all the young'uns out around the house to see that nobody didn't come while she was a-doin' it. And about the time she got ready to turn that milk over, the ole witch stepped in at the door. And she asked Grandma, said she wanted to borrow something. Grandma told her no, she couldn't borrow nothing today. But the ole witch picked up a cake of soap as she went out the door so the spell wouldn't get back on her.

78rpm record label displaying artist name.

Another fun find from the collection is this 78rpm disc credited to Bakersfield country artist Alvadean Coker, entitled “Witch’s Waltz,” on the Abbott label, at call number 78-186. Alvadean’s countrified bad dream involves a grandmotherly spell cast due to bad behavior. Find a clip below:

 

We here at the SFC hope you have an enjoyable and safe Halloween!