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.
Audio and video equipment in our new AV lab location
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!
title card of the film, Sprout Wings and Fly (1983)
Sprout Wings and Fly, a short documentary film about the life of old-time fiddler and banjo player, Tommy Jarrell, turns 35 this fall. To celebrate this coral milestone, we’ve gathered related materials found across the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006) to share with you all.
In August 1977, Alice Gerrard approached Tommy Jarrell about her, Cece Conway, and Les Blank making a film about him. In a letter to Tommy, Alice wrote:
“We would like to make a short film about you and your music…we would like to make the movie with a man named Les Blank who has made 6 or 8 other films about musicians. He would do all the camera work and Cece and you and I would decide what goes in the movie.”
Tommy Jarrell’s response to Alice a month later:
“I have decided I will help you all make the movie if there is no commercial TV. You know how I feel about commercial TV. They will have to set the money bags down to me if they want a commercial TV…I am looking forward to seeing you all soon. Come on down as soon as you can and we will talk a lot, fiddle some, drink a little, have a hell of a good time.”
After securing funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, North Carolina Arts Council, and the English and Folklore Departments at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Sprout Wings and Fly production team traveled to Tommy Jarrell’s home in the small unincorporated community of Toast, North Carolina, located just west of Mt. Airy in Surry County.
Like most documentary film projects, the film was a collaborative effort – directed and photographed by Les Blank, produced and co-directed by Alice Gerrard and Cece Conway, edited by Maureen Gosling, and sound by Mike Seeger. And let’s not forget about the contributions of those who appeared in the film: Tommy Jarrell (this one goes without saying); Tommy’s sisters, Julie Lyons, Togie McGee, Edith Hicks; Tommy’s brother, Earlie Jarrell; Tommy children, Wayne Jarrell, Ardena Moncus, and Benny Jarrell; Tommy’s friends and neighbors, including fiddlers, Robert Sykes and Art Wooten; and visiting admirers and musicians, including a brief appearance by Blanton Owen.
The film, which was originally shot and distributed on 16mm motion picture film, premiered in the fall of 1983 at the Chicago International Film Festival.
Filmmakers Cece Conway and Les Blank and sound person, Mike Seeger, standing in front of Tommy Jarrell’s home in Toast, NC. Tommy Jarrell, Robert Sykes, Blanton Owen, and others are seen sitting on the porch. From folder PF-20006/80 in the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006).
Filmmaker Les Blank (left) and sound person, Mike Seeger (right), standing in front of Tommy Jarrell and others. From folder PF-20006/80 in the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006).
From left to right: Les Blank, Cece Conway, Mike Seeger, and three unidentified women. From folder PF-20006/80 in the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006).
Filmmaker Alice Gerrard (left) and sound person, Mike Seeger (right), posing with Tommy Jarrell (center). From folder PF-20006/81 in the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006).
Tommy Jarrell became well known for his music late in life. Before Alice, Cece, Les, and company showed up in 1981 to begin filming (pictured above), musicians and admirers had already been taking advantage of Tommy’s open door policy to observe and learn from Tommy, who was known for his old-time clawhammer style and participating in the Round Peak music tradition of Surry County (more on Tommy and Round Peak music over on NCpedia).
One of the many admirers who reached out to Tommy for lessons included Alice Gerrard, who received this handwritten note from Tommy.
Handwritten note from Tommy Jarrell to Alice Gerrard. From the Sprout Wings and Fly scrapbook (SV-20006/1) in the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006).
As mentioned and exhibited above, the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006) contains a wide range of materials relating to the pre-production, production, and screening of Sprout Wings and Fly, including photographs, scrapbook clippings and ephemera, and two audio recordings.
Much of the scrapbook materials and both of the audio recordings relate to the film’s November 1984 screening at the Andy Griffith Playhouse in Mt. Airy. As the poster and ticket stub below announce, this was not just your typical film screening. It was also a stage show!
Ephemera related to the November 1984 screening of Sprout Wings and Fly in Mt. Airy, N.C. From the Sprout Wings and Fly scrapbook (SV-20006/1) in the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006).
The two audio cassette recordings (FS-8685 and FS-8686, pictured below) document the stage show portion of the event, which included musical performances by Tommy himself, as well as The Pine Ridge Boys, Art Wooten, Robert Sykes, Bert Dickens (aka Bertie Dickens), Steve Haga (only 9 years old!), Mike Seeger, and Tommy’s sister, Julie Lyons, among others.
Audio cassettes FS-8685 (left) and FS-8686 (right) found in the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006).
Julie Lyons, “Wildwood Flower” (FS-8685, side 1, 23:35-24:44)
Mike Seeger: A woman that a lot of you know and that we worked with
in the film, Tommy's sister, Julie Lyons, I believe is going to sing
a song for you. Julie. Excuse me folks she's going to play the harp
[harmonica] for you. Why don't you give her a nice, warm welcome.
♪"Wildwood Flower" [instrumental]
Steve Haga, “Shuckin‘ the Corn” (FS-8685, side 2, 22:58-24:55)
Steve Haga: I'm going to play a little [?], "Shuckin' the Corn"
♪"Shuckin' the Corn" [instrumental]
Steve Haga: Thank you!
Robert Sykes and the Surry County Boys, “Black-eyed Susie” (FS-8685, side 2, 25:25–28:53)
Alice Gerrard: I'd like to introduce the next band. Robert Sykes has
been a member of this community for a real long time. He used to be a
fiddle player. I have an old picture of Robert when he played with
his brother, playing fiddle and guitar. He quit for a long time and
nobody ever thought he played the fiddle, or at least we didn't know.
He was in the movie, just briefly at the dance, as a dancer. We
didn't know he ever played the fiddle, although Tommy said he used
to play the fiddle. Well a little bit later, he started picking it
up again, and I believe it a lot of the reason he took the fiddle
back up was due to Tommy's encouragement to go ahead and try to get
back into playing again. And he certainly has. He's been going like
a house of fire ever since. And I'd like you to make welcome to
Robert Sykes and the Surry County Boys.
Robert Sykes: We're going to try one called "Black-eyed Susie"
♪"Blackeyed Susie" [instrumental]
Robert Sykes: Our next tune is a tune that I made up. I was mowing
the yard one day and a tune kept coming over my mind and I killed
the motor on the lawn mower and went into the house and played it.
I live about a quarter of a mile from Tommy Jarrell and I went up
there and "Tommy, I got a need a tune. I'll play it. If you don't
like it, tell me. And if you do, name it." And I played it for him
and he said, "I'll call that 'Robert Surly[?].'" He didn't say he
didn't like it.
Tommy Jarrell, “June Apple” (FS-8686, side 1, 00:00-04:40)
Tommy Jarrell: Does that sound right? I'm going to try and sing a
little a "June Apple", I don't guess I'll get the job done, but
I'll try it.
Wish I was a june apple
Hanging on a tree
Every time my true love pass
Take a big bite of me.
Can't you hear that banjo sing
I wish that gal was mine
Don't you hear that banjo sing
I wish that gal was mine.
I'm going 'cross the mountain
I'm going in my swing
It's when I get on the other side
I'm going to get my woman sing.
Charlie he's a nice young man
Charlie he's a dandy
Charlie is a nice young man
Feeds the girls on candy.
Goin down to the river to feed my sheep
Going down to the river Charlie
Going down to the river to feed my sheep
Feed them on Barley.
I wish I had a [?]
'Cuz every time it rains and snows
It's sun down on my fire.
Tommy Jarrell: Thank you
Tommy Jarrell,“Big Eyed Rabbit” (FS-8686, side 1, 09:50-12:57)
Andy Cahan: we got a request for "Big Eyed Rabbit"
Tommy Jarrell: "Big Eyed Rabbit". Alright, here we go...I don't
believe I can think of it.
♪ "Big Eyed Rabbit"
Yonder comes a rabbit,
Down skipping through the sand
Shoot that rabbit,
He don't mind
Fry him in my pan
Lord I fry him in my pan.
Yonder comes a rabbit,
Just as hard as he can run
It's yonder comes another one
Gonna shoot him with a double barrel gun,
Shoot him with a double barrel gun.
Rocking in a weary land,
I'm rocking in a weary land.
Yonder comes my darling,
It's how do you know?
I know her by her pretty blue eyes
Shining bright like gold,
Shining bright like gold.
Tommy Jarrell: I'm sorry about that singing. I just couldn't get up
there. One more?
We invite you to continue exploring materials found in the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006) related to the production. And if you’re interested in viewing Sprout Wings and Fly over the long holiday weekend (highly recommended, of course!), it is available on DVD via Criterion Collection and as of November 2018, the film is streaming on Kanopy, a streaming service that is available for free to all UNC staff and students.
“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.
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.
Through this process, we began to notice several “first records.” These albums, the first full-length releases by independent record labels, were fascinating and downright good listens in their own right. Collectively, however, they offer a valuable point of entry into the overwhelming catalogs of the many labels in the archive. The SFC holds a growing collection of tens of thousands LPs, spread across far too many labels to list here. Some of these labels are familiar, from early giants like Columbia and Victor, to folk music mainstays like Folkways. Still others are virtually unknown, like the often short-lived local, one-artist, or one-album ventures that appeared from time to time. For the most part, the labels presented here exist in a middle ground between these two extremes, releasing what could be broadly defined as vernacular music from a variety of traditions (folk music, blues, cajun music, zydeco, bluegrass, country, conjunto, etc.).
From off-shoots of non-profits to international operations, these labels and their founders were united by a common goal: to share the music they felt passionately about with as many people as possible. In some cases, recording the specific musicians on these first albums was the primary motivation for a label’s founding. Many of these labels are still releasing music, while others folded after only a few releases. Still others formed sub-labels, or were bought by or merged with like-minded collaborators, forming a sort of tangled family tree. The aim of this series is to provide a starting point for research, adding context to these recordings, the artists, the music, and the labels that formed with their release. Most of all, we hope you enjoy the music.
The first installment of “First Impressions”: Arhoolie publishes tomorrow, Thursday, November 15. We’ll put up a new post in the series every couple of weeks. Follow along here.
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).
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):
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!
UNESCO, in cooperation with the Co-ordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations (CCAAA) and other partners, has adopted 27 October as the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage to better focus global attention on the significance of AV documents and to draw attention to the need to safeguard them. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Your Story is Moving” described in a statement from the CCAAA Board.
Every year millions of people record stories of all varieties on audiovisual media, ranging from narratives of everyday life to historic events. These moments are chronicled and stored each day on multiple formats and media, whether they are digital or analogue. How do we ensure that this ever-growing corpus that is our cultural history today is preserved and exists in the future? And how do we guarantee that this rapidly accumulating, collective moving story of ours is not lost, as much of our history on these fragile media has been over the past 150 years?
Reliably, thousands of archivists, librarians and preservationists around the world strive to make our world’s cultural heritage accessible and safeguard it for the future. In addition to their daily efforts to provide access to historic collections housed in established archives, archivists actively rescue collections in danger of loss or destruction due to poor climates, less than ideal storage conditions, political unrest or the economic challenges that many countries are confronted with daily.
…stories move us emotionally. We see this every year on Home Movie Day, an event that provides a moment for publics around the world to bring their visual cultural heritage to archives and libraries, to view, sometimes for the first time in decades. As they see lost family members, loved ones and ancestors long gone come to life on the screen, tears flow, emotions are high, and these moments of our captured history transport us to new heights as our histories unfold before our eyes. History too comes to life through the power of the moving image and in sound recordings which connect us personally with those events and moments in time which have shaped our memories and who we are.
A selection of audio recordings found in the Duck Kee Studio Collection (20553) at the SFC.
Thanks to a series of generous grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Grammy Foundation, the Southern Folklife Collection (SFC) has been able to complete a significant amount of digitization of its historic analog audiovisual holdings,
Most recently, UNC University Libraries received a $1.75 Million Grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest ever made to the University Libraries, to allow the SFC to continue to preserve, digitize and share unique audio and moving image recordings. Collections targeted through the grant will come from the SFC and other curatorial departments within Wilson Special Collections Library, as well as six partner institutions across the state.
The regional partnerships will take place through the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, a statewide digitization and publishing program based at Wilson Library. The State Archives of North Carolina, the Southern Appalachian Archives at Mars Hill University and the Forest History Society in Durham have already committed to work with the SFC.
In honor of the 2018 World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, we wanted to highlight some of the recordings recently digitized as part of one of our current projects. These selections are just a few from materials that have moved through this workflow in the last few month. As of Friday,. October 26, thanks to the work of our incredible Mellon Project Team, Wilson Library has 29,857 streaming AV files made from 23,322 preserved audio recordings, and 1,191 preserved video and film items.
Click through the links below to listen or to view to streaming AV files.
Raw field recording used as source material for “North Carolina Traditions: Algia Mae Hinton: Blues Woman of Zebulon” (FT-20106/3413)
The North Carolina Foklife Media Project Collection (20106) consists of radio programs and associated field recordings, 1982-1983, produced by the North Carolina Folklife Media Project, a National Endowment for the Arts funded media project directed by folklorist Cecelia (Cece) Conway. As project director, Conway headed the production of North Carolina Traditions, an 8-part radio series featuring North Carolina based musicians that aired on WUNC, the flagship National Public Radio station for the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. The collection primarily consists of master recordings but also includes associated field recordings. Programs feature such artists as Etta Baker, a nationally-recognized African-American Piedmont blues guitarist from Caldwell County, N.C.; traditional Anglo-American fiddler Ike Rochelle, singer and accordion player Worth Mason, and fiddler Otha Willard, all from the coastal region of N.C.; Dorsey Dixon (1897-1968), Anglo-American singer and composer of textile and other songs from Richmond County; African-American gospel quartet the Golden Echoes of Granville County; Big Boy Henry (1921- ), African-American blues guitarist and singer from Beaufort County; Algia Mae Hinton (1929- ), African-American blues singer and guitarist and buck dancer from Johnston County; and John (“Frail”) Joines (1914- ), Anglo-American traditional storyteller from Brushy Mountain, Wilkes County.
Digitized version of F-20402/1 with added title cards and countdown. Digital Folder includes original DVD files and an access copy.
Processing information: The digital files were extracted from DVD-R. Original DVD files are dated October 2005. An access .mp4 file was made from the DVD files in August 2018 for viewing purposes.
The twenty-five minute film, titled A. R. Cole, Potter, documents the artistic practice and pottery shop of Arthur Ray “A. R.” Cole, whose family has worked in the ceramic arts for more than three generations. The film is shot entirely at A. R. Cole’s pottery shop in Sanford, N.C. (Lee County, N.C.), and includes footage of A. R. Cole grinding clay and throwing a pot on the wheel, as well as scenes of A. R. Cole’s daughters, Celia and Neolia, storing and preparing pottery orders. The non-synchronous soundtrack of the film consists of audiotaped interviews with A. R. Cole and his daughters, who discuss the family’s long history with the ceramic arts, A. R. Cole’s use of natural, or raw materials, and the evolving business of the pottery shop. The collection contains a 16mm moving image print of the film, as well as a digitized version with added title cards and countdown.
From the Archie Green Papers (20002), Sarah Ogan Gunning “goes through a series of songs for potential educational use,” singing and speaking with Green at a union meeting at Solidarity House in 1964, possibly in Chicago.
The Archie Green Papers also include correspondence, interviews, a discography, research notes, and other items relating to Green’s involvement in three performance events in Gunning’s life between 1964 and 1970. These include the production of a Folk-Legacy album, Girl of Constant Sorrow; Gunning’s performance at Carnegie Hall as part of the New York Folk Festival; and her appearance at the Newport Folk Festival. In his work with Gunning, Green collaborated to some extent with folklorist Ellen Stekert. Gunning was the half-sister of Aunt Molly Jackson and sister of Jim Garland.
An extensive interview with Riddles, a blues guitarist from Kingsport, Tenn. About his own music and his relationship with older blues musicians and early country performers in the Kingsport area during the 1930s.
The Kip Lornell Collection consists of audio recordings, 1932-1976, created and compiled by ethnomusicologist, Christopher “Kip” Lornell, while he was a graduate student of Folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The recordings are primarily field tapes featuring performances and interviews with African American blues and pre-blues secular musicians from North Carolina. Music performed includes blues, old-time songs and tunes, boogie-woogie, and gospel songs, played on banjo, guitar, and piano. Performers featured in the field recordings include Jamie Alston, Wilbert Atwater, Pernell Charity, George Letlow, Arthur Lyons, Lesley Riddle, Dink Roberts, John Snipes, Leo Strowd, Joe Thompson (1918- ), Odell Thompson (1911- ), Willy Trice (1910-1976), and Clarence Tross (1884-1977). Also included in the collection are an interview with Guy B. Johnson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sociologist who studied African American musical traditions; interviews with the Chapel Hillbillies, an African American string band in the 1920s and 1930s; a lecture on folk medicine by Wilbert C. Jordan, medical doctor and sixth generation voodoo priest; a re-recording of Primitive Baptist singing by Elder Golden Harris and others, ca. 1932; and performances by Anglo-American fiddler and hammered dulcimer player Virgil Craven (1902-1980).
16″ Lacquer Disc on Turntable, the middle of the disc shows what the disc looked like prior to cleaning. Recording features pianist, Ralph Font, “Habanera,” 25 June 1947
And one last item from the Apollo Records Collection (20539). The Apollo Records Collection consists of 16″ master lacquer disc audio recordings, 1943-1958, affiliated with Apollo Records, a record company and label founded in New York City in 1944. Bess Berman, one of the few women executives in the recording industry, ran Apollo Records from 1948 until it closed in 1962. The company and label was known for their rhythm and blues, doo-wop, gospel, jazz, and rock and roll releases. Notable artists featured on the recordings found in the collection include jazz saxophonist and composer, Charlie Barnet; African American comedian and film actor, Stepin Fetchit; African American male vocal group, The Four Vagabonds; African American gospel singer, Georgia Peach; African American male vocal group, The Larks; female vocal group, The Murphy Sisters; country and western singer, Merle Travis; harmonica instrumentalists, The Three Harpers; and African American blues singer and guitarist, Josh White. The collection also includes scattered memos and tape logs found with the lacquer disc recordings. Conservators recently cleaned a number of discs for preservation and digitization, including this recording of the great pianist Ralph Font with his ensemble doing a wonderfully rhythmic version of “Habanera” from the opera “Carmen”
These clips offer but a glimpse into the Southern Folklife Collection’s preservation efforts. The public is encouraged to explore our finding aids for detailed inventories and description of archival collections and the UNC Libraries online catalog for materials of interest and request that they be preserved and made available for research. Feel free to contact the SFC with any comments or questions at email@example.com. While you explore the content shared above, we hope think about institutions like the Southern Folklife Collection, Wilson Special Collections Library, the Library of Congress, and countless other archives and institutions that are working to preserve our aural and visual history in communities around the world.
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.
Last 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.
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.”
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.”
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.
There is not much information about the Grapevine Coon Hunters, a stringband out of Grapevine, Texas that operated in the late 1920s and early 1930s. A research request put us onto a 78 rpm disc released on the Brunswick label in 1932. The disc includes two recordings from a November 1930 recording session in Dallas, Texas, including the mysteriously named “Droan Waltz”
In folder 457 of the Guthrie T. Meade Collection (20246) we found some handwritten notes about the Grapevine Coon Hunters and another related stringband, The Grapevine Rabbit Twisters. Meade’s notes are citations from local newspapers, The Grapevine Sun and Dallas Morning News, about upcoming radio broadcast appearances and the songs performed on the air. If any readers out there have more information about the Grapevine stringband scene ca. 1930, or if you want to do more research into the Meade Collection, please contact the Southern Folklife Collection or visit at Wilson Library.