BILL BIRCHFIELD OF THE ROAN MOUNTAIN HILLTOPPERS, PHOTO BY ALICE GERRARD.
The Southern Folklife Collection is pleased to announce The Banjo: Southern Roots, American Branches, Saturday, August 25, 2012. This exhibit, symposium and concert is the first of the three-part Southern Folklife Collection Instrument Series. Panels, exhibits, and concerts in 2013 will feature the pedal steel guitar and the fiddle. The series seeks to provide an opportunity for music lovers to learn from leading musicians and scholars about the music, history, and culture of the American South.
Please join us first for the banjo symposium Saturday, August 25 from 10am to 4pm in the Pleasants Family Assembly Room, Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC-CH, followed by a free concert in UNC’s Memorial Hall including master pickers Tony Trischka, Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Riley Baugus with Kirk Sutphin. This is a free but ticketed event. Tickets are now available at the Memorial Hall Box Office, 919.843.3333.
The symposium features lectures and panel discussions on the history of the banjo with:
Robert Cantwell, UNC Professor of American Studies; Author of Bluegrass Breakdown
Bob Carlin, Musician and Author of The Birth of the Banjo
Cecelia Conway, Appalachian State University Professor of English; Author of African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia
Laurent Dubois, Duke Professor of Romance Studies and History
Dom Flemons, musician (Carolina Chocolate Drops)
Phillip Gura, UNC Professor of American Studies; Author of America’s Instrument: The Banjo in the 19th Century
Jim Mills, musician (Ricky Scaggs, Vince Gill) Six time winner of IBMA Banjo Player of the Year Award.
Stephen Wade, Musician and Author of The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience
Don’t miss the accompanying exhibit tracing the history and development of the banjo, featuring instruments, photographs, recordings and ephemera from the Southern Folklife Collection.The exhibit opens August 25th and runs through Dec 31, 2012. on the 4th Floor, Wilson Library. Follow the Southern Folklife Collection on facebook or come back to Field Trip South for updates.
And now a couple more photos from the same roll as the one featured above from the Alice Gerrard Collection (#20006). These photos feature Joe and Bill Birchfield of the great family stringband from Carter, Tennessee, The Roan Mountain Hilltoppers. Bill is demonstrating his unique banjo style, playing backwards, upside-down, and left-handed.
The end of UNC’s school year came up on us extremely fast. We are sad to see our student assistants, upon whom we depend to keep the SFC machine running smooth, graduate and go on to other things. We can’t thank them enough. Recently, one of these intrepid employees digitized a great number of photographs from the Alice Gerrrard Collection (#20006). The image above, a beautiful portrait of legendary old time banjo player Matokie Worrell Slaughter, came from a set of 35mm slides.
Originally from Pulaski, Virginia, Matokie Slaughter performed with her family on local radio during the 1940s and became a regular at fiddler’s conventions. She is featured on a number of recordings, including a band she formed with her sister, Virgie Richardson, and Alice Gerrard called the Back Creek Buddies.
The SFC holde many recordings of Slaughter in the form commercial releases, like the excellent 1978 County LP, Clawhammer Banjo, vol. 3, and field recordings from the Alice Gerrard and Paul Brown collections. Check back for another photo tomorrow.
We wanted to share a few photos from the Mike Seeger Collection in advance of the tribute concert and lecture on Friday, March 23. The image above, featuring Seeger recording William Bragg along with a group of interested students, was captured in Widen, West Virginia by Alice Gerrard in 1967.
Gerrard will perform at the tribute concert along with Ginny Hawker and Mike Seeger’s former band mates from the New Lost City Ramblers, John Cohen and Tracy Schwarz.
Founded in 1966 by Anne Romaine and Bernice Johnson Reagon, the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project (SFCRP) worked to present traditional musicians from black and white cultures in performance together at a time when this was considered controversial. The SFCRP continued presenting musical performances throughout the South until the late 1980s and kept close ties with the activism of the civil rights era. Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard participated in numerous tours, from 1968 to the 1980s, even assisting in the organizing, production, and promotion at times. The Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection (#20004) includes numerous promotional materials as well as correspondence, both business and personal, between Anne Romaine, Hazel, and Alice. The letters and contracts provide fascinating details about the cultural industries related to traditional music in the late 1960s and early 1970s as well as information about lives of struggling folk musicians like Hazel and Alice as they carved out their early careers. In a letter dated 19 February 1968, Anne wrote to Alice:
I have narrowed the tour schedule down to two weeks instead of three. It will be from the 7th of April through the 20th. Can you and Hazel come for the second week which will be from the 14th through the 20th? The other performers for that week will be the Blue Ridge Mt. Dancers, Mike Cooney, Mable Hillary, Rev. Brown. I hope that change doesn’t mess up yalls plans too much. The tour will concentrate almost entirely in North Carolina. I could get you a weekend date here in Atlanta at the Crucible coffee house at Emory University which pays 70% of the gross for Fri. and Sat. They usually have about 70 people in there each night” [letter from Anne Romaine to Alice Foster, Feb. 19, 1968. From the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project Collection (#20004)]
Below is a promotional brochure for Hazel & Alice from the early 1970s.
Students, scholars, and fans of folklore often can’t help but romanticize the experiences of early field collectors, discovering lost tunes and musicians unknown outside their local communities. The music is just so compelling and raw and often very good, from the legendary Lomax (John and Alan) recordings of the 1930s to the astounding body of work collected by the scholar/musicians like Mike Seeger and John Cohen in the 1960s, and countless others whose collections remain tucked away in attics or housed in archives like the Southern Folklife Collection and in institutions across the country.
Hearing the music today offers glimpses to worlds of experience foreign to most listeners. The listener becomes a voyeur, peeking through the window into the homes and lives of the performers (and often the field recorders too) of a forgotten past. While the feeling of being “let in on a secret” is profound and exciting, regarding the documented performance as a “secret” or a private moment between a few individuals distances the listener, and the temporal difference between when the material was recorded to when it is shared with a larger listening audience only further emphasizes that distance. Instead of the field recording creating a cultural connection, it is exoticized to the point where such an experience (finding and recording lost or forgotten or ignored practitioners of a similarly lost, forgotten or ignored art form) seems impossible to replicate in the present, “modern” time. Thankfully there are those who refuse to relegate those experiences exclusively to the past. Instead, these individuals constantly seek to break down the barriers created by an Orientalized other represented solely by the sounds on a tape by finding the hands, faces, and minds behind the music.
Alice Gerrard and Andy Cahan spent many years in the late 1970s and early 1980s seeking out musicians in and around Galax, Virginia and Toast, North Carolina. They developed strong relationships with some of these regions’ greatest living musicians, including Luther Davis, Roscoe and Leone Parrish, and Tommy Jarrell. Cahan and Gerrard recorded hundreds of hours of interviews, lessons, jam sessions they shared with these musicians. They learned countless tunes these performers but they also became their very good friends, sharing meals, helping with chores when health problems interfered, and even sharing holidays with them like a family. In 1983, Cahan and Gerrard spent Christmas day with Tommy Jarrell and his daughter Ardena “Dena” Jarrell at her house in Toast, NC, eating, drinking eggnog and, of course, playing music. They had such a good time that the ensemble composed a song to commemorate the event, “Xmas 83 at Dena’s.”
I’m including 3 clips here: an introduction, a clip of the song itself, and a brief moment after the song when Tommy, Andy and Alice talk about composing fiddle tunes and recording. Please enjoy. Sounds like they did. Xmas83 at Dena’s_intro XMas at Dena’s Xmas83 at Dena’s_outro
All clips from audiocassette FS-8341: Tommy Jarrell with Alice Gerrard and Andy Cahan, recorded on 25 December 1983, in Toast, N.C. From the Alice Gerrard Collection. The ongoing digitization project Fiddles, Banjos and Mountain Music: Preserving Audio Collections of Southern Traditional Music, is made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.