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.

 

New streaming audio!

Southern Folklife Collection John M. Rivers, Jr. Studio. Photo by Dan SearsThe Southern Folklife Collection now has well over 5000 streaming audio files of digitized archival recordings. Recent additions have been made possible through support from a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. We’ve shared streaming recordings from the William R. Ferris Collection (20367), Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245) and the Mike Seeger Collection (20009) in the past, but we have since more than doubled the amount of streaming content. We’d love to hear your favorites, but as an introduction, we pulled a few that we found particularly fascinating from the most recent additions. Click on the link to go directly to a streaming audio file:

8611: AG 427: Joe Caudill, Bertie Dickens, and Dan Williams, recorded in December 1971 in Ennis, N.C. (continued from AG 424) / Various Others. Side 1Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 12.30.47 PM

  • From the Bob Carlin Collection (20050), The Spencer Brothers, Lance and Maynard. Originally from Virginia, The Spencer Brothers performed on Greensboro’s WBIG and with Stringbean as part of Charlie Monroe’s Kentucky Partners Troupe in the 1940s.

7009: Spencer Brothers at Sister Ruth’s home; recorded by Brad Spencer. 1985.: Side 1Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 12.35.26 PM

  • From the Tom Davenport Collection (20025), we’ve added a number of interviews with Arthur Jackson, aka Peg Leg Sam, and members of the Joines family . Here is one of Jackson conducted during the making of the excellent documentary film, Born for Hard Luck (view it on Folkstreams.net).

324: Peg Leg Sam: interview: Side 1Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 12.36.36 PM

272: John Kelly, fiddle. Dublin. Paddy Glacken, fiddle. Dublin. 2 August 1972. Tony Smith, fiddle. Dublin. 3 August 1972. Side: 1Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 12.37.37 PM

Over 1000 audio files from the William R. Ferris Collection (20367) now streaming

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Bill Ferris, Bruce Payne (WOKJ radio announcer), and Robert Slattery (sound technician) in the WOKJ radio station during the production of the film “Give My Poor Heart Ease.”

Thanks to a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, we are now streaming over 1000 audio files from the William R. Ferris Collection (20367). Preserved as part of the Southern Folklife Collection‘s digitization project, “From the Piedmont to the Swamplands: Preserving Southern Traditional Music.”  I am even more excited to share with you that this is only the beginning. Over 1000 hours of music and recordings from the Goldband Recording Corporation Collection (20245) and the Mike Seeger Collection (20009) are soon to follow. This work was accomplished by an extraordinary team of archivists, engineers, programmers, and of course Dr. William R. Ferris. The Southern Folklife Collection has been working toward this goal for quite some time now and it is an honor to share this news with you.

We’ll have much more to share in the coming days, but for now immerse yourself in the recordings–interviews, songs, tales, and other sounds, Southern folklore, art, songs, Fannie Bell Chapman, Leon Clark, Lewis Dotson, Walker Evans, Theora Hamblett, Rose Hill Baptist Church, B.B. King, Ray Lum, Ethel Mohamed, James “Son” Thomas, Alice Walker, Pecolia Warner, Eudora Welty and much much more. Click through to the William R. Ferris Collection (20367) finding aid, and click on and active link for any tape you would like to hear.

Here’s a great place to start, Fannie Bell Chapman leading children’s games, recorded in Mississippi in 1972, from FT9922