First Impressions: Folk-Legacy Records

First Impressions banner featuring Folk-Legacy Records logo, an illustration of a green man encircled by branches

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, black and white, featuring close photograph of Frank Proffitt

Frank Proffitt, Frank Proffitt of Reese, North Carolina | FC-383

cover of booklet from Frank Proffitt record, features black and white photograph of Frank Proffitt holding a wooden banjoIn 1961, Sandy Paton recorded Frank Proffitt, a traditional singer, banjo and dulcimer player and instrument maker, in his home in Reese, North Carolina. 14 songs from that recording session were released on the 1962 Folkways album, Frank Proffitt Sings Folk Songs. Sandy Paton was a folk singer in his own right, having already released a well-reviewed album on Elektra Records in 1958, The Many Sides of Sandy Paton. In 1961, however, Paton and an old friend, Lee B. Haggerty, decided to start a record label in Huntington, Vermont. Paton had not been completely satisfied with the Folkways release of Frank Proffitt’s songs, and decided to release more material of his as the first LP on his new label, Folk-Legacy Records. This new album, Frank Proffitt of Reese, North Carolina, featured 17 songs, including the song preserved by Proffitt and made famous by the Kingston Trio, “Tom Dooley.” Most of the songs are of unknown authorship and are credited as traditional, while 4 are credited to Proffitt and 4 more are ballads collected by Francis James Child in the late 19th century. This first Folk-Legacy release, with a stark black-and-white cover, simple packaging, and comprehensive liner notes, is emblematic of their early catalog. In 2001, the album was reissued as Folk-Legacy CD-1, and is now available on digital and streaming platforms.

Here is an excerpt from Track 8, the murder ballad “Tom Dooley”:

Also check out Track 9, “I’m Going Back to North Carolina”:


 THE ARTISt

business card, features small illustrations of banjo and dulcimer

Frank Proffitt business card (front). Included in a letter from Proffitt to Howie Mitchell, a folk revival musician and Appalachian dulcimer maker. More letters from Proffitt can be found in Folders 1-6, Howie Mitchell Papers (20538).

Frank Proffitt was born in Laurel Bloomery, Tennessee in 1913, and raised in Reese, a small town in Watauga County, North Carolina. Proffitt worked in a variety of trades throughout his life, including carpentry, factory work, and growing tobacco. As a carpenter, he became well-known for his handmade fretless banjos and dulcimers, but he was always locally known for his banjo-playing and singing. In the late 1930s, the folksong collectors Anne and Frank Warner met Proffitt through their search for a dulcimer builder. Among the songs that Frank Proffitt shared with the Warners was “Tom Dooley,” a ballad which had been passed through several generations of his family. The Warners in turn shared the song with Alan Lomax, who published it and several others in his book Folk Song USA in 1947. The Kingston Trio learned the song from one of the Warners’ recordings, and the version they sang became one of their first and biggest hits. Frank Proffitt continued to live and work in Reese, North Carolina, and only released two albums in his lifetime: one on Folkways Records and one on Folk-Legacy Records, both recorded by Sandy Paton. After these two releases in the early 1960s, Proffitt enjoyed even more attention in the ongoing folk revival, performing at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 and the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Frank Proffitt passed away in 1965 at the age of 52. In 1969, Folk-Legacy Records released an album of previously unreleased recordings of Proffitt as the Frank Proffitt Memorial Album.

As part of a radio program on record collectors, Billy Faier interviewed Frank and Anne Warner about their lives and work. In this clip from FT-20380/11368 in the Billy Faier Collection (20380), the Warners tell the story of how they first met Frank Proffitt at the home of dulcimer-maker Nathan Hicks in Beech Mountain, NC:

Frank Warner: When we crossed the divide, and looked down over on the 
side, there was this house sitting on the side of Beech Mountain and 
a lot of people around it. And we pulled up and they just gave us a 
tremendous reception.
Anne Warner: Everybody was sort of shy at first, including us.
Billy Faier: Yeah, first time you'd seen them.
FW: Yes! But there was old Frank Proffitt, the son in law of Nathan
(Hicks).
AW: Well we met him for the first time - when you say "old," it's
just in endearment, he was very young, he was about 27.
FW: But I mean, there he was, and uh, Nathan had got him to come over
- he came 25 miles to be with us, and brought his guitar.
AW: It was 25 miles by road or 10 on foot.
FW: Yeah, and he walked, that's right, he walked across carrying his 
guitar on his shoulder all the way across those mountains just to be 
with us, you know.
AW: I remember his - that - acute sense of humor he still has, and we 
had some binoculars, and later on to break the ice everybody was 
looking through these binoculars. Frank Proffitt said, "Well, I can 
see my corn field over there, but I don't see nobody hoeing in it.
All: [Laughter]

The Label & its founders

Black and white flyer featuring an illustration of Sandy Paton holding a guitar

Flyer announcing Sandy Paton as the manager of the Kroch’s & Brentano’s Record Department in Chicago. Folder 113 in the Archie Green Papers (20002).

By 1960, Sandy Paton was working a regular job as the manager of a record department in Chicago, where he focused primarily on stocking and selling folk music. Eventually, however, he and his wife Caroline decided to leave the city life for rural Huntington, Vermont. Soon after their move, they were visited by their friend Lee B. Haggerty, who suggested they start a record label with the rest of Sandy Paton’s unreleased field recordings. Haggerty had just received a sizable inheritance, which formed the foundation of Folk-Legacy Records along with Paton’s tapes of Frank Proffitt. Haggerty joined the Patons in Vermont, and they operated the label from a large barn near their home. Everyone was involved in the operation of the label, from making and purchasing recordings, designing record sleeves, writing liner notes and transcribing lyrics, placing ads in folk music publications, and taking the records on the road to festivals and conventions across the country. In 1967, they moved the label from its home in Vermont to Sharon, Connecticut. The label ultimately released around 150 recordings on LP, CD, and cassette over their more than 50 years of operation. Lee B. Haggerty passed away in 2000 and Sandy Paton passed away in 2009. As of this posting, Caroline Paton maintains the label, which survives primarily through its website.

covers of Folk-Legacy recording catalogs, including Folk-Legacy logos and photos of rustic backdrops

Assorted Folk-Legacy Records catalogs. Folder 396 in the SFC Discographical Files (30014).

In 1991, Ronald Cohen interviewed Sandy and Caroline Paton in their home, and in this clip from that interview, FS-20239/7539 in the Ronald D. Cohen Collection (20239), Sandy Paton describes the humble origins of Folk-Legacy Records.

Sandy Paton: While I was there, I recorded a number of other people 
around Beech Mountain, and I was playing these tapes back home for this 
visitor, Lee Haggerty from Chicago. And he said, you know, what are you 
going to do with them? And I said, well, I might put them together and 
try to make another album for Folkways, and he said, why don't we put 
them out? I said well, it's cool, except, you know, I gotta make money. 
He had inherited some money from an uncle, and so we started Folk-
Legacy Records with his inheritance and my tapes, and produced - I 
called up Diane Hamilton [founder of Tradition Records, another 
prominent folk music label at the time] and asked her who made masters, 
and where did you get your records pressed, and who prints jackets, and 
so on.

Limber jacks and dulcimers

Sandy Paton holding a dulcimer while sitting by a tree, advertisement for "Appalachian Dulcimers"

Flyer for Appalachian dulcimers sold by the Patons, featuring Caroline Paton with two of the dulcimers. NF-1529 in the SFC Artist Name Files (30005).

Operating a record label of any size is a costly venture, but operating a relatively niche, small label like Folk-Legacy was rarely profitable. In part to supplement their income, the Patons sold other items alongside their recordings, both through mail-order and from a table at conventions and festivals. Several accounts describe Sandy Paton as always carrying one of his Limber Jacks, a small, wooden dancing toy the Patons sold for many years. Recognizing a market for the beautiful instruments made by craftsmen like Frank Proffitt, the Patons also sold hand-crafted “Appalachian” dulcimers from their headquarters in Connecticut.

 

 

Flyer for limber jack toys, featuring picture of the toy and picture of the Paton family around a toy

Flyer for the wooden Limber Jack toys sold by the Patons, featuring the entire Paton family crowded around one of the toys. Folder 113 in the Archie Green Papers (20002).


NUMBER TROUBLE

LP cover, features black and white photograph of Sandy and Caroline Paton singing outside

Sandy and Caroline Paton, Sandy and Caroline Paton | FC-8319 | Note the call number in the upper right hand corner of the record sleeve: “EGO-30.”

In discovering the first LP released by a given record label, one challenge can be deciphering the numbering system used by the label. Sometimes the process is simple – early catalogs and the records themselves say “#1” or “1001,” or the liner notes explain that this is the first album released by the label. However, it can also be more complicated – sometimes multiple lines of recordings (i.e. a 400 and 600 “series”) are released simultaneously, labels have several releases prepared before their launch, or numbering systems change throughout the years. Folk-Legacy’s initial numbering system includes four “number 1s,” each with a different prefix: Frank Proffitt is FSA-1, while there is also an FTA-1, FSI-1, and FSE-1. Based on catalogs and various reviews, these prefixes could be loosely translated as: FSA = Folk Songs – Authentic, FTA = Folk Tales – Authentic, FSI = Folk Songs – Interpreters, and FSE = Folk Songs – England. Folk-Legacy continued to use these prefixes in creative (if sometimes confusing) ways throughout their catalog. For example, when Sandy and Caroline Paton released their first album on Folk-Legacy as performers, Sandy and Caroline Paton, they changed the prefix to “EGO” to acknowledge what was required to release an album of your own music on your own record label.

black and white record catalog with photos of LPs and Folk-Legacy logo

Folk-Legacy’s first record catalog. Note that each record is advertised at $4.98, and there are three #1 records. Folder 396 in the SFC Discographical Files (30014).


SHOW ME MORE!

There are an abundance of materials related to Folk-Legacy Records, Frank Proffitt, and other independent record labels in the Southern Folklife Collection, as well as an extensive portion of the Folk-Legacy catalog on LP and CD. Check out a few other items of interest below or search the collection yourself.

front and back cover of Little Sandy Review magazine, photo of Leadbelly on front, photo of cowboy throwing another man on back

An early advertisement on the back cover of The Little Sandy Review proclaims “FOLK-LEGACY IS HERE!” The Little Sandy Review, Vol. 1 no. 21, front and back cover.

front and back cover of folk music magazine, front features Frank Proffitt illustration, back features ad

Frank Proffitt features on the front cover of The Little Sandy Review while another Folk-Legacy ad appears on the back. The Little Sandy Review, Vol. 1 no. 22, front and back cover. Frank Proffitt illustration by George Armstrong, the same artist who designed Folk-Legacy’s iconic Green Man logo.

pencil sketch of a record cover layout with type-written text

This excerpt from a 1962 letter from Sandy Paton to folklorist D.K. Wilgus includes a sketch of the basic Folk-Legacy record layout, which would remain largely unchanged for most of the Folk-legacy catalog. Folder 313 in the D.K. Wilgus Papers (20003).

cut-out illustration of a dulcimer, banjo, and other string instrument featuring descriptions by Frank Proffitt

Frank Proffitt business card (reverse). Included in a letter from Proffitt to Howie Mitchell, a folk revival musician and Appalachian dulcimer maker. More letters from Proffitt can be found in Folders 1-6, Howie Mitchell Papers (20538).

text describing the Folk-Legacy logo, back of a recording catalog

The Folk-Legacy logo, featuring the “Green Man” is explained on the reverse of a 1984 Folk-Legacy Catalog. The artwork by George Armstrong, Caroline Paton explains, is meant to be “an ancient pre-Christian vegetation god, a symbol of the rebirth of nature after its apparent death in winter.” Folder 396 in the SFC Discographical Files (30014).

LP cover featuring three photographs of Sandy Paton in different outfits against a black background

Sandy Paton, The Many Sides of Sandy Paton | FC-4568

First Impressions: CMH Records

First Impressions banner featuring Country Music Heritage logo

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 album cover, features Don Reno holding banjo, Bill Harrell holding guitar, both wearing suits and sunglasses

Don Reno & Bill Harrell & The Tennessee Cut-Ups, Dear Old Dixie | FC-17121

center label from Country Music Heritage first record, wood grain background with silver textIn 1975, country music industry veterans Martin Haerle and Arthur Smith started CMH Records, and Don Reno, Bill Harrell, and the Tennessee Cut-Ups were a perfect fit for the label’s first release. Haerle had many connections from his experience at Starday Records and in the radio business, and Don Reno had performed with Arthur Smith on several occasions. Don Reno, Bill Harrell, and their band were, by 1975, long-established bluegrass musicians. Performing with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys and, most famously, Red Smiley, Don Reno was a member of the first generation of bluegrass musicians that established the sound of the genre in the 1940s and 50s. Bill Harrell, too, was one of bluegrass’ most popular musicians, most successfully recording and performing with his band the Virginians. CMH, short for Country Music Heritage, aimed to give a home to these prominent, if aging, artists, many of whom had been dropped from the rosters at major labels. Don Reno and Bill Harrell had been performing together for over 10 years by the time they recorded Dear Old Dixie at Arthur Smith Studios in Charlotte, North Carolina. The album features mostly original and arranged tunes by the pair, and Arthur Smith even steps in to join Don Reno on guitar on  “B.G. Chase,” an instrumental he co-wrote with Reno.

Listen to a segment of “B.G. Chase,” from Side 2 of Dear Old Dixie, here:

And here’s “Make Believe (You Didn’t Set Me Free),” also from Side 2:


The label

CMH Records advertisement, album covers and descriptions

An early CMH Records advertisement shows the prominent names in bluegrass already recording for the label. Folder 211 in the SFC Discographical Files (30014).

Country Music Heritage (CMH) Records was founded in 1975 by Martin Haerle, a former vice president of Starday Records, and Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith, famed performer, TV host, and composer of “Guitar Boogie” and “Fuedin’ Banjos.” Their vision of the label was to release contemporary country music recordings, with a particular focus on bluegrass music. From the beginning, CMH signed long-established musicians, from the Osborne Brothers, Mac Wiseman, and Lester Flatt to the Stonemans, Benny Martin, and Joe Maphis. Most of these early releases, like Dear Old Dixie, were produced and recorded at Arthur Smith Studios in Charlotte, North Carolina. Soon after the launch of the initial album series (starting with Dear Old Dixie, CMH-6201), CMH began releasing their popular “Bluegrass Classics” double LP series (starting with CMH-9001). These two primary series, featuring modern recordings of bluegrass and country greats, carried the label into the late 1980s. In 1990, after the death of Martin Haerle, his son David Haerle took over operations of CMH. The younger Haerle started the “Pickin’ On” series in the 1990s, which offered bluegrass cover albums of classic and popular songs, from Pickin’ on the Beatles (1999) to Pickin’ on Nirvana (2017). In this same spirit, CMH is now home to other labels offering interpretations of classic music: Vitamin Records, an outlet for the Vitamin String Quartet, releases instrumental interpretations of popular artists from Radiohead to Kanye West, and Rockabye Baby! releases lullaby versions of popular rock songs.


The Artists

Bill Harrell with guitar on stage, promotional photo

Promotional photo of Bill Harrell, Folder 236 in the Art Menius Papers (20406).

Born in South Carolina, Don Reno was raised in Haywood County, North Carolina, where he first picked up a banjo at the age of five. After a decade or two in the country music business, Don Reno achieved lasting fame through his partnership with Red Smiley as Reno & Smiley. Bill Harrell, another successful bluegrass musician, had been touring and recording with his band the Virginians. Reno and Harrell first started performing together in 1964, after Red Smiley retired from music performance. Backed by the Tennessee Cut-Ups, Don Reno could usually be heard playing the 5-string banjo while Bill Harrell joined him on the guitar and sang lead. When Red Smiley returned from retirement in 1969, he performed with Reno and Harrell until his death in 1972. After parting ways in 1977, Reno and Harrell continued to tour and record with their respective bands for the rest of their lives.

Here is a brief segment of an interview between Alice Gerrard and Bill Monroe, from the Alice Gerrard Collection (20006), in which Bill Monroe discusses Don Reno’s impromptu “tryout” for the Blue Grass Boys:

Alice Gerrard: How'd you happen to meet Don?
Bill Monroe: Don Reno?
AG: Yeah.
BM: Oh, uh, I guess he'd heard that, you know, that Earl [Scruggs] had 
quit, and he was going to be the next banjo player, you know, whether 
or not.
AG: Yeah. [Laughter]
BM: He got into Nashville and we'd done gone, we'd left on Saturday 
night, and he -
AG: Oh no...
BM: He followed us right on back into Taylorsville, North Carolina, 
and -
AG: Persistent, anyway...
BM: And Earl was working his two weeks down there, and he [Don Reno] 
came right down through the audience with his banjo, take the banjo out,
walked right out on the stage where we were.
AG: Oh, that's great, that's really great. And did he just -
BM: Nobody didn't ask him to come out or nothing.
AG: [Laughter] Did it tickle you at the time or were you kinda mad?
BM: No, it came as a surprise, and tickled us, too. But Earl would take 
a break while Don would get up and play.
AG: Oh no! That's a riot, Bill...
BM: I tell that on Don now, but you know, that kinda gets away from him, 
but that's really the truth.
AG: That's really funny... How old was he then? Do you have any idea?
BM: Uh, I don't know - he's a little older than Earl, or a little 
younger, I believe, isn't he?
AG: I guess he's probably a little bit younger. Was he pretty young, 
though, when he came? Well, he must have been, to have that much nerve! 
I tell you, only a young kid would have -
BM: He wanted that job, though, he knew what it would mean to him.

Listen to the full interview, on FS-20006/8640, here. Streaming access to this recording were made possible through the SFC’s ongoing audiovisual preservation grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


The local connection

Arthur Smith was born in South Carolina, where he also began his musical career, but he achieved most of his success in Charlotte, North Carolina. After moving to Charlotte in 1943 to appear on WBT radio’s Carolina Calling, and was also featured on the later TV iteration of the show. Arthur Smith’s own The Arthur Smith Show was the first nationally syndicated country music television show, and ran for 32 years. When Smith’s 1955 recording “Fuedin’ Banjos,” which he had recorded with Don Reno, was reinterpreted without credit as “Dueling Banjos” in the 1972 film Deliverance, he successfully sued Warner Bros. for a substantial settlement and a songwriting credit. In 1957, Smith established Arthur Smith Studios in Charlotte, the location of many seminal recordings and prominent radio shows, as well as much of the CMH Records catalog of releases.

In a recording studio, seated in front of microphones, Arthur Smith, late middle aged, wearing headphones, in a red short sleeve shirt and purple boots holds a guitar, Don Reno, wearing headphones and classes, with blue longsleeve shirt, blue pants, and cowboy boots, playing a banjo

Don Reno and Arthur Smith (in the purple boots) in the studio recording “Feudin’ Again” on Nov. 17, 1978. From Roll Film Box P081/120C-2 in the Hugh Morton Photographs and Films (P0081) in the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives. Search the Hugh Morton Collection here.


Show me more!

There is plenty of more information related to Don Reno, Bill Harrell, Arthur Smith, and CMH Records in the Southern Folklife Collection, as well as an extensive portion of the CMH catalog on LP, CD, and cassette. Check out a few other documents of interest below or search the collection yourself.

Song folio cover, features two red stars, with the faces of Don Reno and Red Smiley on each star

Don Reno & Red Smiley and the Tennessee Cut-Ups, Song and Picture Folio No. 4. Song Folio FL-184 in the Southern Folklife Collection Song Folios (30006).

Cover of a CMH Records newsletter called Midnight Flyer, featuring an illustration of a train

Midnight Flyer, no. 1 (1980). Several of these newsletters can be found in Folder 211, SFC Discographical Files (30014).

Cover of a song folio, featuring Don Reno and Red Smiley dressed as Union and Confederate soldiers leaning against a tree with their guns

Don Reno & Red Smiley: Song and Picture Folio No. 2. Song Folio FL-185 in the Southern Folklife Collection Song Folios (30006).

 

First Impressions: Arhoolie Records

Image

title banner, Arhoolie Records, El Cerrito, California, 1960 to 2016

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

Album cover of Mance Lipscomb's Texas Sharecropper and Songster, features black and white photo of Mance playing guitar

Mance Lipscomb, Texas Sharecropper and Songster | FC-457

center LP label, Mance Lipscomb, featuring Arhoolie Reccords logo and track listing

In 1959, Chris Strachwitz, a high school teacher living in California, set out for Texas hoping to meet and record one of his heroes, Lightnin’ Hopkins. Unable to find him, he resolved to return the next year, this time with a longer list of musicians to find and record. He had been buying and selling old 78 rpm records for several years, providing him with a little extra cash to buy some basic recording equipment. In 1960, with Mack McCormick’s help and a few tips from people along the way, he managed to meet Mance Lipscomb at his Navasota home. Texas Sharecropper and Songster is the product of recordings made that day, with the 65-year-old singing 14 songs he had picked up over a lifetime of playing music for friends, family, and both white and African-American dances. This impromptu session was Lipscomb’s first recording, and Strachwitz was initially unimpressed: “To be honest, I didn’t like his music that much – I love tough, nasty, old blues, and Mance was so pretty” (Goodwin, 1981). Of course, as Mance’s music elevated Arhoolie Records to a full-time venture, it must have grown on him: Lipscomb recorded 5 more albums for the label before his passing in 1976.

Listen to “Shake, Shake, Mama” from Side 2 of Texas Sharecropper and Songster:

The label

covers of three Arhoolie Records catalogs, featuring album covers

Assorted Arhoolie Records catalogs from the SFC Discographical Files (30014), Folders 59-61.

Arhoolie Records takes its name from a word for a field holler, more often referred to as a “hoolie.” Chris Strachwitz founded the label in 1960, ultimately establishing its headquarters in El Cerrito, California. Arhoolie primarily released original recordings of living musicians, whereas two of Strachwitz’s later ventures, Blues Classics and Old Timey Records, were devoted to reissues of older recordings. Chris Strachwitz remained at the helm for the label’s lifetime, continuing to record and release all varieties of music, and leading the transition into the CD and digital realms. In May of 2016, Smithsonian Folkways acquired the Arhoolie catalog, and Texas Sharecropper and Songster was one of the first batch of albums re-released by the new label owners.

The Founder

The founding of Arhoolie Records marked Chris Strachwitz’s first big step into the world of traditional music, but the label will be far from his only legacy. After moving to the United States from Germany in 1947, Strachwitz could hardly seem to stay away from the music. His passion for collecting 78s evolved into the Arhoolie Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to preserving and sharing his extensive collection. He started the Old Timey and Blues Classics labels soon after founding Arhoolie to release out-of-print recordings of blues and old-time musicians. Through Arhoolie, he published the Arhoolie Occasional and The Lightning Express, periodicals devoted to spreading information about blues music and recordings. Through a long-time friendship with documentary filmmaker Les Blank, he supported the production of documentaries on Arhoolie musicians like Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Below is a segment from a 1981 interview by Strachwitz with Moses Asch, founder of Folkways Recordings, from the Archie Green Collection (20002).

Chris Strachwitz (CS): I’d like to get some of this on tape about your feelings in regard to reissuing old material or, that is, recordings that are really historical that have not been used by the major labels. You were certainly one of the first people to take a stand on this, weren’t you?

Moses Asch (MA): That’s right.

CS: What’s your attitude on this?

MA: Well, there’s a section in the Constitution of the United States, in which it says, “People have a right to know.” It’s part of the copyright, first copyright law of the land. And in there it says that no one is permitted, if they want the people to benefit, to take something out of circulation. If you buy a car, the manufacturer must have a replacement part as long as the car is operational. Otherwise, they lose all rights to the car. And I apply that same attitude to recordings. Once I feel that the manufacturer or the producer or the one that had the recordings originally issued the record, and then the record is not available, and it’s left out of their catalog, they throw that record into public domain and anyone can use it.

Listen to the full interview here. Digitization and streaming access to this recording were made possible through the SFC’s ongoing audiovisual preservation grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation:

SFC Audio Cassette FS-20002/11183 (digitized)

Tape 28: Chris Strachwitz interviews Moses Asch, 1981

Audiocassette

The local connection

Album cover, Elizabeth Cotten's Live!, features close-up color photo of Cotten's face

Elizabeth Cotten, Live! | FC-17741

Elizabeth Cotten was born in Chapel Hill in 1893, the youngest of five children. After moving around the Southeast for many years, she settled as an adult in the Washington, D.C. area. Eventually, she came to work for the Seeger family of musicians, who, after hearing her play, helped expose her unique performance and songwriting abilities to the world. Most famous for her composition “Freight Train,” Cotten released just four solo albums in her lifetime: a series of three LPs for Folkways and Live!, a 1983 collection of live performances on Arhoolie Records.

Show me more!

The Southern Folklife Collection holds plenty of additional Arhoolie Records-related documentation, as well as a significant portion of the Arhoolie Records catalog on LP and other formats. Check out a few other documents and collections of interest below or search the collection yourself.

same black and white photo of Mance Lipscomb from album cover, holding guitar

Promotional photo from the release of Texas Sharecropper and Songster, from the John Edwards Memorial Foundation Records (20001).

Cover of the Lightning Express, no. 3 (1976). 0versize Paper OP-20245/16 in the Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245), with photographs of Clifton Chenier with accordion, Charlie Musselwhite with harmonica, and Narciso Martinex with accordion and group. Also features illustrations of traditional music genres illustrated by R. Crumb including: Blues, Tex-Mex, Jazz, Cajun, Novelty, Gospel, Polka, Folk

Lightning Express, no. 3 (1976). 0versize Paper OP-20245/16 in the Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245)

Cover of Arhoolie Occasional with photos of Lightning Hopkins, Mance Lipscomp, Clifton Chenier, Narciso Martinez, and others

Arhoolie Occational, no. 1 (1971). 0versize Paper OP-20245/16 in the Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245)

Front page of Arhoolie Occasional with articles about making Arhoolie LPs, Dr. Harry Oster's Folklyric Label

Arhoolie Occational, front page, no. 1 (1971). 0versize Paper OP-20245/16 in the Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245)

1975 American Traditional Old-time Music Festival

cover of festival brochure, with illustration of a scarecrow holding a banjosecond page of festival brochure, describing the scope and intent of the festivalThe American Traditional Old-time Music Festival was a touring festival of old-time musicians directed by Mike Seeger in 1975-76. This brochure, Folder 2877 in the D.K. Wilgus Papers (20003), is from the April 17, 1975 stop at UCLA. Song and interview recordings from throughout the tour can be found in the Mike Seeger Collection (20009), most of which are digitized: FS-20009/9655-9662,9688-9696. Here is one to get you started: Dennis McGee and Sady Courville, April 20, 1975 (FS-20009/9693).
third and fourth pages of festival brochure, providing brief biographies for the artists to appearthe last two pages of the festival brochure, detailing other bicentennial events at UCLA; acknowledgments

Cousin Emmy: Looking for a Name

CD Cover, Carolina Chocolate Drops seated with instruments, sepia-toned to appear oldLast year, while writing a final research paper on the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ wonderful 2012 album, Leaving Eden, I encountered the music of the late hillbilly performer Cousin Emmy. The Carolina Chocolate Drops had covered her single “Ruby” for the album, notably adding a beat boxer for their arrangement. I loved the song, and the difficulty of finding anything beyond variations on the same basic biography of Emmy was intriguing. Besides wondering how her actual childhood and life compared to the brief anecdotes I found mentioned constantly, I came upon a more simple question: what was her real name?

In theory, the answer was as simple as the question: several credible sources mentioned Cynthia May Carver as Cousin Emmy’s real name. However, the 1946 Decca single that featured “Ruby” credited the songwriter as one “Joy May Creasy.” When the Osborne Brothers had their first hit on MGM Records in 1956 with their rendition of “Ruby Are You Mad,” the song was simply credited to Cousin Emmy, suggesting that Joy May Creasy and Cousin Emmy were one and the same. This seemed to be further confirmed by an oft-cited 1943 Time magazine profile that claims Cousin Emmy was christened Joy May Creasy outside Lamb, Kentucky. After searching pictures of gravestones, countless liner note mentions, copyright renewals, and census records, I had found many more instances of both names, including some minor variations (Mae instead of May, Jo rather than Joy, etc.). I felt that I could safely conclude that both these names held some truth, and the variation in reporting was probably due to a failed (and unmentioned) marriage, the use of pet names, and/or some other unknown factor.

Record label, Cousin Emmy's song "Ruby," Decca Records; LP Cover, Osborne Brothers sitting with instruments, stylized writing of Ruby

This summer, I was fortunate to begin working here in the Southern Folklife Collection, where I have been exposed to a wealth of information on early hillbilly performers like Cousin Emmy. As I pulled items for researcher questions and digitization, I began to revisit Cousin Emmy and to try to add some more context to her story. I settled on a simple goal: find a resource that mentioned both Joy May Creasy and Cynthia May Carver, or at least something that explained the difference.

In the SFC Song Folio Collection (30006), I found Chimney Corner Songs, FL-0137, which offered an interesting biography of Cousin Emmy and her fellow performers. Although it did not specifically mention her real name or a marriage, it led me to two different, illustrative sources in the Special Collections and Archives at Berea College. First, I searched a similar songbook collection and found a songbook that includes a biography for Johnny Creasy, the announcer on Cousin Emmy’s show, that also mentions his attraction to Cousin Emmy. Chimney Corner Songs was published and largely credited to John Lair, whose papers and correspondence are held at Berea. In that correspondence is a 1941 letter from Cousin Emmy, in which she champions herself and her husband, an announcer: “My husband is a very good announcer. We both work nice together.”

Song folio cover, drawing of fireplace and photos of Cousin Emmy and Frankie MooreBlack and white photograph of cousin emmy

So, Cousin Emmy was born Cynthia May Carver outside Lamb, Kentucky. At least at some point, she also went by Joy. She was married to a Johnny Creasy (whose first name might have been Alfred) for some time, despite many claims, including in the Time article, that she had never married.

Of course, I also found a scribbled note card in the SFC Artist Name File (30005) for Cousin Emmy, NF-538, that states “Cousin Emmy was married to Joe Fred White before she was in radio (He’s in Florida).” In the Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive, an online database, I found a small blurb in a 1949 issue of Variety magazine:

“St. L.’s ‘Cousin Emmy’ Divorced

St. Louis, June 14

Elmer Schaller, farmer living at Lenzburg, Ill., near here, last week won an uncontested divorce from his wife, who has been the “Cousin Emmy” of KMOX’s early a.m. hillbilly program. Couple was married April, 1945, and separated March, 1948. Mrs. Schaller has been a radio entertainer for seven years.”

handwritten notes on Cousin Emmy

Cousin Emmy’s on-stage persona and biographical information were constantly being tailored to her audience, from hillbilly music on the radio to the folk revival with Alan Lomax in the 1940s and the New Lost City Ramblers in the 1960s. Separating all the details of her life from the stories spinning all around her would surely be an impossible task, but I plan on putting on “Ruby” and digging around a little more.two posters, one featuring Cousin Emmy and other performers, the other is the Cousin Emmy Show