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.
“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.
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.
Field notes containing track listing for tape transfer of textile labor song 78s.
“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.
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.
Cover of American Industrial Ballads from the commercial albums selection in the Southern Folklife Collection.
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.
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 Book. Appalachian 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.
“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.
Mance Lipscomb, Texas Sharecropper and Songster | FC-457
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:
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 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:
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.
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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.
Artist Micael Priest moved to Austin, Texas in 1969 and quickly became an active participant in the city’s growing counterculture. As a member of the famed music venue Armadillo World Headquarters’ Art Squad from 1972-1980, he created hundreds of iconic images that document the people, places, and activities of the music scene in the form of posters advertising upcoming shows, AWHQ calendars, advertisements, and record covers. With an instantly recognizable visual style, Priest’s posters distill the spirit of a community and, along with the work of his fellow AWHQ crew Jim Franklin and Kerry Awn, imbues such a strong sense of place that it serves as a simulacrum of an Austin that blurs the real and the remembered until the boundaries seem to disappear.
Folklorist Archie Green recognized the power of Priest’s work while teaching at UT Austin in the mid-1970s. Always an ethnographer, Green collected a number of posters, clippings, recordings and more documenting the “cosmic cowboy” scene at the Armadillo and around the city. In memory of Micael Priest we wanted to share a couple of these.
Below is the now famous poster for Willie Nelson’s first show at the club, August 12, 1972, arguably one of the most significant performances in Nelson’s career that marked his turn away from Nashville and toward his own unique sound. Above is one of my personal favorites featuring Alvin Crow and the Original Texas Playboys at the Broken Spoke. I had the fortune of growing up not 1/2 mile from the Broken Spoke, and despite the best efforts of “New Austin,” I am very glad to report that it’s still there, still honky-tonkin, and the Shiner beer is still cold. Priest’s note handwritten on the bottom of the poster is a prescient comment on the importance of his work and of all poster artists in the historical record. A comment that celebrates the general sense of wonder those cosmic cowboys and post-hippie hipsters must have felt to be able to attend shows like this on a regular basis — singular moments in music history that transcended the commercial drive of the social scene.
During my work cataloging the many editions of the IWW’s Little Red Songbook in the Archie Green Collection, one particular autograph stood out and intrigued me time and time again. The Green Collection holds 13 different items—all songbooks of some sort—with the autograph of Katie Phar. Little is known about her and not much has been written on her or her role in the IWW. Phar joined the Industrial Workers of the World around the age of 11. She was often referred to as the “IWW songbird” or the “Songbird of the Wobblies.” A young Katie Phar wrote to IWW martyr Joe Hill during his imprisonment about their shared love of music and its importance to the labor movement. A handful of images of Katie Phar have been digitized by the University of Washington Libraries, but the details on Katie Phar and her life remain relatively few.
Fifth edition of Little Red Songbook with Katie Phar’s autograph | Green 432d c.2
In the twenty-eighth edition of the Little Red Songbook, published in July of 1945, I found a page devoted to Katie Phar. With a short tribute and an image in memory of Katie Phar, published just after her death in 1943, the Little Red Songbook paid its respects to one of its most ardent supporters of its music. Using this information and with a little help from census records and city directories, I was able to create an authority record for the voice that inspired so many members of the IWW “with her songs, her high courage” (Songs of the workers, 1945, page 4). City directories for Seattle in the early 1900s revealed Katie’s steady employment as a cashier for a theater, before she later devoted herself to the entertainment industry, presumably referring to her many hours spent singing for Wobblies and adding to the morale of the labor movement.
Tribute to Katie Phar in the twenty-eighth edition of the Little Red Songbook, issued July, 1945 | Green 451
While these autographs may mark the songbooks as her own, or they may simply be autographs for those who heard her sing and lead the singing at many an IWW meeting, Wilson Library also holds some fascinating traces of Katie Phar in its archival holdings. In the Archie Green Papers of the Southern Folklife Collection, there are three song scrapbooks related to Katie Phar. Two of the scrapbooks were compiled by Katie Phar herself, and the third was compiled by Herbert (Herb) Tulin, a prolific songwriter and member of the IWW.
Pages from an undated song scrapbook that belonged to Katie Phar. | Folder 6584
It is in Tulin’s scrapbook that the importance of Katie Phar to the labor movement can be seen. Herb Tulin compiled a scrapbook of clippings and mimeographs of his songs for Katie Phar as a Christmas present in 1928.
Herbert Tulin’s presentation inscription to Katie Phar. The scrapbook is filled with songs written by Tulin. | Folder 6585
To Katie Phar,
As you turn the pages o’er to sing
May your spirits soar the higher
To let your heart be light and on the wing
Remembering those you helped inspire.
Songs written by Herbert Tulin about Katie Phar | Folder 6585
The two final pages of the scrapbook are filled with the songs that Tulin wrote for Katie and reveal much about her and her role in the labor movement. These songs describe Katie Phar as a “bright star,” “an inspiration,” “a Rebel-girl,” and one who “lift[s] your thots to nobler things.” Tulin writes in one song: “Her voice brings joy to all who hear her sing.” Katie Phar’s voice and song-leading was an inspiration to many in the IWW and the greater labor movement, as they aspired to be more like her and “make the world more fair,” with these scrapbooks revealing more about her life and her role in the Industrial Workers of the World.
It’s Archie Green‘s birthday today, he would have been 100 years old. The photo above was taken while Green was recording Dixon’s Babies in the Mill(Testament, 1963) album.
Archie played many roles throughout his career–folklorist, archivist, field worker, professor, and public sector advocate. His constant drive to document, archive, and curate is illustrated by his remarkable collection of work, the Archie Green Papers (20002), now housed at the Southern Folklife Collection. Archie was instrumental in the creation of the SFC as well as his advocacy and vision helped orchestrate the transfer of the John Edwards Memorial Foundation collections from UCLA to UNC Chapel Hill in 1983.
Green mentored and inspired countless ethnographers and activists. Archie was constantly engaged with the field, often interviewing fellow folklorists about their work. One interview that feels especially relevant today is one with eminent folklorist Dr. Roger D. Abrahams, who just recently passed away on June 21, 2017, SFC Audio Cassette FS-20002/11163. The interview, conducted in Austin, Texas sometime in the 1970s, while Abrahams is chair of the department and Archie is a professor, includes lots of interesting content about the Austin Cosmic Cowboy scene as well as African American folklore studied. You can hear the entire interview streaming in the SFC’s digital collections
Archie (Aaron) Green grew up in southern California, began college at UCLA, and then transferred to the University of California at Berkeley from which he was graduated in 1939. After working in the shipyards in San Francisco, serving in the Navy in World War II, and becoming active in several labor organizations, Green returned to academia. He received his M.L.S. from the University of Illinois and his Ph.D. in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania.
Green joined the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1960 and served there as librarian and later jointly as an instructor in the English Department until 1972. In 1973, Green took on a creative role at the Labor Studies Center in Washington, D.C., in part assisting with the Smithsonian Institution’s Festival of American Folklife and labor participation in the Bicentennial celebrations. At the same time, he was producing albums, conducting fieldwork, teaching, lecturing, and writing articles. He was active in the John Edwards Memorial Foundation (now Forum) from its inception and lobbied Congress to pass the American Folklife Foundation Act, which it did in 1976, establishing the Center for American Folklife.
Green retired as professor emeritus from the University of Texas at Austin in the early 1980s to his home in San Francisco, Calif., where he continued to work collaboratively on research and other projects with many individuals and institutions dedicated to the study of folklore and the preservation of folklife. He received an honorary degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1991. Archie Green died in March 2009.
Starting today we have another fresh batch of streaming video, so I thought I’d share some highlights gathered from my time reviewing the footage.
Click on any of the images below to view the video they were captured from. All other content mentioned can be found by going directly to the collection link and searching the collection finding aid.
Mike Seeger Collection (20009): Video from various music and dance events in Mt. Airy, NC, an interview with Snuffy Jenkins, recording of Almeda Riddle, and a 1975 broadcast performance with Hazel Dickens, Alice Gerrard, Mike Seeger and Tracey Schwartz
Almeda Riddle and Mike Seeger deep in thought at Almeda’s home in Greers Ferry, AR on May 3, 1984 (VT-20009/137)
William R. Ferris Collection (20367): Interviews with Eudora Welty, Cleanth Brooks, Pete Seeger, and James “Son” Thomas, concert footage of Bobby Rush, and video documentation of Dr. Ferris’ trip down the Mississippi river aboard the Delta Queen
Bobby Rush in concert at the Hoka in Oxford, MS on July 25, 1987 (VT-20367/31)
Anne Romaine (20304): Various appearances and concerts with Anne Romaine on auto harp and footage of the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers
“Take me for a ride in your car car” – Anne Romaine performs for Langly Park-McCormick Elementary school children (VT-20304/14)
Archie Green talking about laborlore in San Francisco on September 20, 2001 (VT-20002/43)
J Taylor Doggett (20286): Performance by T-Bone Pruitt, tribute to John Tanner, various Five Royales television appearances, and video of the 1992 North Carolina Folk Heritage Awards Ceremony
The dedication of Five Royales Drive on August 23, 1991 in Winston-Salem, NC (VT-20286/23)
In addition to the 4 collections listed above, we have also made available streaming content from the George Hamilton IV (20410) collection, which can be viewed online if you are on campus here at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. This collection contains a number of appearances, interviews, and performances with George Hamilton IV, as well as a handful of Grand Ole Opry shows.
Running toward the finish line of 2015, it’s been a great year at the Southern Folklife Collection. We pulled a bunch of items to share with you all over the next two weeks for our annual “Holiday in the Stacks” feature. Can’t wait for you to hear some of the 78 rpm discs we pulled so be sure to come back to Field Trip South to hear some special tunes.
But first, a tribute to the workers of the world. Archie Green worked with countless unions and labor organizers over the years, but I beleive as he was a Journeyman Shipwright and a sailor in the Navy, that the sea always held a special place in his heart. So in honor of Archie and all those who help to move the material goods that make the world go round, we pulled these holiday cards from the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific from Folder 3823 in the Archie Green Papers (20002).
A couple of posters from gigs I would have liked to attend. I was lucky to grow up not 1/2 mile from the Broken Spoke, and despite the best efforts of “New Austin,” I am very glad to report that it’s still there, still honky-tonkin, and the Lone Star is still cold. Both of these posters come from the Archie Green Papers (20002), collected by Archie while a professor at the University of Texas in the 1970s. I feel like artist Michael Priest’s comment written on the bottom of the poster reflects the general sense of wonder those cosmic cowboys and post-hippy hipsters must have felt to be able to attend shows like this on a regular basis, singular moments in music history that transcended the commercial drive of the social scene.
Dock Walsh, known as the “Banjo King of the Carolinas”, shown here demonstrating his unique ‘Hawaiian’ banjo style, achieved by placing pennies under the bridge and sliding a pocket knife along the neck. Photo ca. 1962 by Archie Green, from the Archie Green Collection.