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.

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!

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

Bill Smith retires from Crook’s Corner

Three t-shirts of Chapel Hill bands formerly owned by Chef Bill Smith: Johnny Quest, Shiny Beast, and Spatula

mid shot of Bill Smith, age mid-60s, wearing blue button down shirt, glasses, bald head

Bill Smith at “History of the Cat’s Cradle” panel, SFC 25th Anniversary, 23 August 2014. 

This past weekend, friend of the Southern Folklife Collection (and to all of Chapel Hill/Carrboro/humanity) Bill Smith worked his last official shift as executive chef of Crook’s Corner restaurant.  It is impossible to quantify the amount of joy and happiness that Bill has brought to so many people over the last five decades as a chef, former co-owner of the Cat’s Cradle, community leader, and friend. In honor of his illustrious career, we pulled a few special items from the Bill Smith T-Shirt Collection (20498).  These well-loved, and well-worn, t-shirts were collected by Smith over the years, attending shows after shifts at Crook’s. In honor of Smith’s stature in our community, we have chosen shirts representing local bands including; Johnny Quest, Shiny Beast, Spatula, Erectus Monotone, and the Merge Records 10th anniversary shirt. We can only imagine what delicious things Smith was cooking up while wearing these in the kitchen. Perhaps those stains on the Erectus Monotone shirt below could come from one of his signature dishes Atlantic Beach Pie? Shrimp and Grits? Green Tabasco chicken?  We can’t wait to see what Smith get’s into next. From all of us: thank you, Bill Smith. 

Happy 2019! A look back at 2018.

All of us at the Southern Folklife Collection want to wish you a very happy new year. 2018 was a very productive one for the SFC:

2018 was the second year of our partnership with YepRoc Records and saw the release of three new recordings. In February, we released Doc Watson, Live at Club 47 with a record release party at Club Passim featuring songwriter and 2017 IBMA Guitar Player of the Year Molly Tuttle accompanied by her bandmates in The Goodbye Girls, Allison de Groot, Lena Jonsson, Brittany Karlson and guitarist and singer Stash Wyslouch.  Live at Club 47 documents Doc Watson in top form recorded in February 1963, between his first solo public performance at Gerdes Folk City in New York City in November 1962 and his breakthrough performance in August 1963 at the Newport Folk Festival. 55 years after the recording, Live at Club 47 reached #9 on Billboard’s Bluegrass Album Chart.DocWatson_LiveAtClub47_COVER to album. Sepia toned photo of Doc Watson holding acoustic guitar standing outside in front of a barn

Black and White photo of Tia Blake in black shirt with leaves in background. Shot in ParisIn March we released a special 10” vinyl EP for Record Store Day, Tia Blake, Paris and Montreal Demos 1973-1976.  Tia released only one record in her lifetime, Folksongs & Ballads, for a small record label in France. Her demos had briefly been available on a CD reissue by Water Records that had quickly gone out of print. We hated to see this material unavailable to a broader audience, and with both Tia’s and her mother Joan’s blessing, made the tracks available again on vinyl, newly remastered by Brent Lambert of Kitchen Mastering, from the SFC’s 24bit 96kHz transfers of the analog masters. The demos are intimate and beautifully sung in Tia’s rich melancholy voice. The recordings are some of our favorites in the collection.

July saw the release of Bluegrass Champs, Live from the Don Owens Show. These rare live 1950s radio broadcasts featured Scotty, Donna, Van, and Jimmy Stoneman of the Stoneman Family.

The recordings came from the legendary private collection of Leon Kagarise and were produced by Joe Lee of Joe’s Record Paradise.  Live from the Don Owens Show reached #2 on Billboard’s Bluegrass Album chart.

At the end of July, we completed the implementation phase of Extending the Reach of Southern Audiovisual Sources, our 2015-2018 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The grant has been transformative, allowing us to implement large-scale preservation and access workflows for archival audio and video holdings of the Southern Folklife Collection. This August we started a new expansion phase of the grant to broaden the focus to all archival AV materials in the Wilson Special Collections Library and to pilot AV digitization services for partner institutions across the state through UNC Libraries’ North Carolina Digital Heritage Center.

Another key initiative has been providing access to our collections backlog. In 2018, brief online finding aids and library catalog records were created for many of the SFC’s hidden collections. We hope to complete this process and have all of the SFC’s collections discoverable in 2019. For an updated listing of our collections visit our website.

My thanks for your continued support! We are looking forward to 2019, which is the 30thAnniversary of the SFC’s official opening. We have a number of events and exhibits planned. More news to come.

Greetings from the New Arrivals

Andrew Crook filing through tapes in the stacksHello there! My name is Andrew Crook and I’ve been an audiovisual archives assistant with the Southern Folklife Collection since mid-September. Prior to arriving at UNC, I worked as a photo archivist at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, GA and I am a 2015 graduate of the library science and information science program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (where I got my first taste of audiovisual preservation as a graduate assistant in the university’s library system). I am one of the three new hires working under a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to help expand the scope of the digitization work undertaken at Wilson Special Collections Library over the next several years. With that in mind, I’d like to use this post as an opportunity to introduce all of us and talk a bit about what we get to do on a day-to-day basis.Mel Meents reviewing videotapes from the Student Television CollectionMel Meents is also working under this grant as an audiovisual archives assistant. Mel is a 2017 graduate of the library and information science program at the University of Illinois and prior to starting at UNC, was employed at the Nashville Metro Archives Audiovisual Conservation Center in Nashville, TN working as a project archivist and digitization technician.

On the ground level, we are both responsible for managing the files produced during our regular digitization projects and preparing them for long-term digital storage. This ongoing process requires us to carry out a number of tasks: including inspecting and editing metadata to ensure that the digital files produced by our engineers are directly tied to their original items, packaging preservation masters with supporting documentation in preparation for long-term storage, producing high quality derivatives of master files for user access and connecting streaming files to the finding aid entries associated with the original items. We have been working on the grant for almost three months and, to date, we have already posted and packaged digital files for around 1300 items: including standout selections from the Archie Green Papers (20002), William R. Ferris Collection (20367) and Apollo Records Collection (20539) and fascinating tapes from the Bushyhead Family Collection (05773). We are also on call to help out with a number of activities to ensure that our rare and unique materials are ready for immediate playback by our audio engineers: including varying degrees of mold remediation and item cleaning.Film cans from the Florentine Films Collection in the stacks at Wilson LibraryAlongside our daily duties, we have undertaken a number of independent projects. For instance, Mel has singlehandedly processed and arranged a large number of items from the Student Television Collection: a collection spanning 25 years worth of student-generated media productions across over 1600 tapes (Mel will be writing in greater detail about this project in the near future, so stay tuned!). I have been barcoding and organizing hundreds of reels in our film collection—including over 700 raw film elements from the Florentine Films collection that were used in the production of Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary—to prepare them for eventual relocation to our off-site cold storage facility. These projects have served to ensure greater access and longevity to the unique materials that are housed in Wilson Library.Dan Hockstein preparing to transfer a tapeAudio engineer Dan Hockstein is another new member of the Mellon Project Team. Dan comes to us from Philadelphia, PA, where he spent time as a QC engineer with George Blood Audio after earning a degree in audio post production and sound design from Emerson College.

Dan is performing parallel transfers—digitizing up to 12 cassettes at a time—to prepare preservation masters derived from the thousands of cassette tapes in the collections. Over the past two months Dan has digitized a large number of items, with highlights from the Bruce Bastin Collection (20428), Jas Obrecht Collection (20512) and Greenhill Family/FLi Artists/Folklore Productions Collection (20542), constituting much of the nearly 600 items that he has transferred to date. Dan actively troubleshoots any potential issues associated with certain objects before playback: a task that sometimes requires him to re-house cassettes or bake the tapes themselves in order to guarantee smooth playback. Dan has also begun working with audio engineer Brian Paulson to develop an automated method to streamline the audio department’s pre-existing metadata workflow.

Our group has definitely hit the ground running and we’re looking forward to helping expand access to the materials held by Wilson library, not to mention those held by our new partners, in the new year!

Preservation Update – new hires and online recordings

Our efforts to expand and improve on audiovisual preservation continue here in Wilson Library, with the recent hiring of our third Audio Engineer, Dan Hockstein, and two Audiovisual Archives Assistants, Mel Meents and Andrew Crook. These positions have been funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as part of our Extending the Reach of Southern Audiovisual Sources: Expansion grant. This phase of the project scales the digitization and preservation work we’ve done for the SFC to all of Wilson Special Collections AV.

Andrew, Mel and I have recently moved into a new space in Wilson Library’s Digital Production Center, and we now have an official AV Lab to call our own in addition to the Ben Jones and John M. Rivers Jr. audio studios. Mel and Andrew have stayed busy working across collections in the building, producing item-level descriptions for videotapes in the University Archives’ Student Television at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill collection (#40326), prepping films for cool storage from the Florentine Films Archives (#20193), and managing monthly pre and post-digitization tasks.

a vertical rack of audio equipment sits next to a table with computers, with a rack of video equipment in the background
Audio and video equipment in our new AV lab location

The audio engineers have been running tapes and discs, covering large sections of the Bruce Bastin Collection (#20428), Paul Brown Collection (#20382), William R. Ferris Collection (#20367), Apollo Records Collection (#20539-z), and North American Traditions Collection (#20503) among many others. Since August we have digitized, preserved, and provided online streaming to over 1,300 audio recordings.

a shelf of audiotape boxes including a Woodie Guthrie folk voice recording
A batch of 1/4" audiotapes waiting digitization

Our Technical Services department has also been working hard to decrease the number of collections in the SFC backlog, creating collection level finding aids for over 70 collections! Our AV Archivist Anne Wells and processing assistants, Rae Hoyle and Emma Evans, have completed or provided additions to a number of SFC finding aids, including the Berea College Collection of John Lair and Lester McFarland Recordings (#20281), Nancy Hamilton Collection on Molly Sequoia (#20125-z), and North Carolina Symphony Recordings (#20390-z).

a photo stand with two lights projected onto an audiotape box
Our photo stand for photographing items in the collection

In early 2019 we look forward to sending off our next batch of video priorities for digitization to our vendor. These items will be joined by recordings from a few of the regional institutions we have partnered with as part of an initiative in the grant to provide services to external collections, including Appalachian State University and North Carolina State Archives. More on that soon!

 

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!

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