I was reflecting on this crazy year recently, and feeling grateful for our Elizabeth Cotten event earlier in November, a heartwarming hour amid all the noise of the previous few months that was fun to share and experience with all who tuned in.
In case you missed it, the full event is available to stream below from the UNC Libraries YouTube channel.
Cotten’s great-grandson John Evans, Jr. and his family, along with Yasmin Williams, bookended the event with performances that recalled the origins of Cotten’s music, along with how it continues to inspire contemporary musicians.
There was also a glimpse and mention of Dick Waterman in Gerrard’s slideshow, and the SFC holds the Dick Waterman Photography Collection (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20533/), a rich resource of photographs documenting the blues, country, and rock music scenes from the 1960s to the early 2000s.
The Elizabeth Cotten appearance on Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest TV show that opened the event can be found here a little more smoothly than the video capture over Zoom. The SFC has the original 2″ quad video of that show in the Pete Kuykendall Collection (https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20546/).
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.
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.
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.
Directed by Kenny Dalsheimer, You Gave Me A Song (http://www.alicegerrardfilm.com/) “offers an intimate portrait of old-time music pioneer Alice Gerrard and her remarkable, unpredictable journey creating and preserving traditional music.”
Check your local member stations for when it might air in your area, but North Carolina’s UNC-TV will air it in the coming days over its various stations:
Reel South – You Gave Me A Song
Thursday, May 14, 10:00 pm – UNC-TV
Friday, May 15, 04:00 am – North Carolina Channel
Sunday, May 17, 10:00 pm – North Carolina Channel
Explore a few of the SFC’s resources featured in the film and related to Alice Gerrard below:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Looking into correspondence in folder 220 from the Mike Seeger Collection (20009) today provided some fascinating reading from the desk of Dock Boggs. The letters offer numerous details into Boggs’ late recording and performing career.
I also noticed what appears to be a draft of Dock Boggs’ bio written in pencil on the back of multiple fliers advertising performances at the legendary Melrose Ave. music club, the Ash Grove. Looks like May, 1963 was a pretty awesome time to be hanging out in LA.
Jean Ritchie–singer, scholar, songwriter, activist, Kentuckian, “The Mother of Folk”–passed away June 1 at the age of 92. We wanted to share some images of Ritchie in remembrance of her life and in honor of her vitally important contributions to the promotion and preservation of traditional music in Appalachia, America, and beyond.
Ray Sullivan of the Photo Sound Associates team in New York City documented Ritchie in the late 1950s, recording herself in a small space on an open reel tape machine and performing at a concert of the Folksingers Guild. From the look on Ritchie’s face, it must have been a good session. Following are a few images from the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project–including SFCRP founder Anne Romaine, Mike Seeger, Doc Watson, Rosa Lee Watson, Bessie Jones, and more–with whom Ritchie would occasionally tour.
Finally, for listening we pulled out a special recording of Ritchie from the Artus Moser Papers (20004). Ritchie was a senior at the University of Kentucky in April of 1946 when she attended the Renfro Valley Folk Festival and sang a number of ballads for Artus Moser collecting for the Library of Congress. The following, “Lord Grumble,” “I Married Me a Wife (Gentle Fair Jenny),” “Foggy Dew” and “The Little Old Woman” come from a 12″ acetate disc FD_0501. Thank you Jean Ritchie. Peace to you, your family, your friends, and your fans. Father Grumble_FD0501_Artus Moser Papers_20004I Married Me a Wife_Gentle Fair Jenny_FD0501_Artus Moser Papers_20004The Foggy Dew_FD0501_Artus Moser Papers_20004The Little Old Woman_FD0501_Artus Moser Papers_20004
Another image from the Mike from the Mike Seeger Collection, this time playing guitar with his dear friend, Chapel Hill’s beloved Libba Cotten, in 1978 or 1979.
Join us tonight, March 23, 2012, in Wilson Library on UNC’s campus for a discussion and concert in celebration of the life and work of musician, documentarian, and scholar Mike Seeger.
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.
World renowned fiddler Kenneth Clayton Baker of Jenkins, Kentucky passed away on July 8, 2011. Master of the “long bow” style of bluegrass fiddling, Baker joined up with Bill Monroe in 1957, becoming the longest lasting member of The Bluegrass Boys when he left the group in 1984. Best known as a bluegrass fiddler, Baker’s reputation as a musician reached far beyond bluegrass into swing, country, and beyond, earning him a National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1993. Baker’s influence on American music is immeasurable.
We are fortunate to hold a wide array of Baker’s recordings a the Southern Folklife Collection spanning his entire career, including his fantastic solo LPs of fiddle tunes recorded for the County label in the 1970s, like Dry and Dusty, call no. FC_4221, pictured above. The Becky Johnson Collection (#20405) includes some wonderfully candid performance photos of Baker and countless other bluegrass heroes, and the always astounding collection of materials assembled by the late Mike Seeger includes priceless recordings of performances by Baker and his fellow Bluegrass Boys.
While scanning through Seeger’s recordings, we came across a bluegrass fiddling workshop hosted by Seeger at Bill Monroe’s Bean Blossom festival, 21 June 1969, call no. FT_12857. In the two clips below, Baker first expresses his love for the fiddling of legendary jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, and in the second, we are treated to Baker’s rendition of the classic fiddle tune “Fisher’s Hornpipe.” May he rest in peace.
One of the great things about archives is that you can run across interesting information in places you’d never expect. For example, the Mike Seeger tape logs in the Southern Folklife Collection Field Notes (30025) are largely comprised of long lists of the song titles and performers which make up the track listings of his numerous field recordings. But hidden among the pages and pages of track listings are occasional gems of personal musings, background stories, or random anecdotes like the following:
In August 1988, I spoke with Bud Reed about the Monroe Brothers engagement in the 1950s at the New River Ranch. . . He said that they booked them separately for the same day, then somehow they sang together on stage. . . Bud said that some of the public attended because of the widely circulated folklore that they had fought and broken up – and that the big scar on Charlie’s neck was from a knife wound from Bill. These people wanted to see them fight again. I’ve heard many such stories about these two.”
Listen below to a clip from the brothers’ (fratricide-free) collaboration that day: Lonely Little Robin The entire concert is recorded onSFC field tape FT-12917.