When I’m Gone: Remembering Folk Icon Elizabeth Cotten

 

The Southern Folklife Collection and the University Libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are happy to invite you to an evening of stories and music celebrating the life of legendary North Carolina musician Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten.  Please join us Thursday, November 12 at 7pm.  Register for this free, live event here: go.unc.edu/ElizabethCotten

Elizabeth Cotten and children (PF-20009/17). Photo by Mike Seeger. Ca. 1957 in the Mike Seeger Collection #20009, Southern Folklife Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This hour-long virtual program will feature guitarist Yasmin Williams, musician and scholar Alice Gerrard, and Cotten’s great-grandson John W. Evans Jr., who is pictured above as a young boy listening to Cotten.

The SFC is proud to hold a number of collections related to the work of Cotten, including Alice Gerrard’s own collection (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20006/).

Elizabeth Cotten, Live! | FC-17741 in the Southern Folklife Collection

Many live concert recordings are held in the McCabe’s Guitar Shop Collection (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20511/), which also includes a video interview, from around 1984, of Cotten and some of her family.  The Grammy-award winning Elizabeth Cotten, Live! recording (pictured above), a sampler of live performances from Cotten in her 80s, includes selections from sets recorded at McCabe’s and preserved in the collection.

The Stefan Grossman Collection (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20578/), picked up in December 2019, also offers some classic Cotten material through his Vestapol label, a deep source of a variety of video recordings of jazz, blues, country, and folk artists.

Perhaps the richest source of Cotten material is held in the Mike Seeger Collection (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20009/).  It was while in employment as a housekeeper for the Seeger family that Cotten picked up a guitar again after a period of musical inactivity, and Mike Seeger’s reel-to-reel recordings of her playing propelled her to becoming a popular figure on the folk circuit, and a touring and performing career that lasted into her 90s.

Elizabeth Cotten and Mike Seeger (PF-20009/22). In the Mike Seeger Collection #20009, Southern Folklife Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Many thanks to a generous grant from the Martin Guitar Charitable Foundation for making this event possible.

And if you ever find yourself down our way in Elizabeth Cotten’s hometown, check out this recently installed mural by North Carolina artist Scott Nurkin, near the Chapel Hill/Carrboro border, as part of the Musician Murals Project.

McCabes Guitar Shop Collection comes to UNC

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It’s a treat to go on an accession trip through the eyes and lens of Southern Folklife Collection curator, Steve Weiss. Just last month, Steve traveled to California to prepare the over 2000 audio cassettes and open reel tapes documenting performances from 1969 onward by the likes of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, John Fahey, John Hammond, Bill Monroe, Odetta, Jean Ritchie, Dave Van Ronk, Mike Seeger, Ralph Stanley, Merle Travis, Kate Wolf, Townes Van Zandt, and North Carolina’s own Elizabeth Cotten and Doc and Merle Watson. They all took place at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California.
More than 1,600 musical acts have played at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California, over the last 45 years. The list on the store’s website even comes with a warning: “We lost track of a few names.”
Now Bob Riskin, the concert venue’s owner, has donated thousands of hours of recordings from those concerts to the Southern Folklife Collection (SFC) in the Wilson Special Collections Library. The SFC will preserve the recordings by creating and archiving digital copies of them.
The McCabe’s store, which first opened its doors in 1958 and specializes in selling folk and acoustic instruments, offers instrument rentals and repairs as well as books, lessons, and help for musicians and music aficionados alike.
We look forward to researchers, scholars, musicians, and fans to be able to access these historic recordings starting in September of 2016. For now, though, take a trip to McCabe’s through these photographs made by Steve Weiss on his recent trip.
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