Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Slim Eppinger, Fats Hardy, Thomas Bumpas, et al

Here is another video snippette from fieldwork and documentary projects I've conducted over the past 30 years or so. It's on YouTube here.

This is part of the Ninth Street Revival project in Chattanooga in 1994 (see earlier post).

I'll put a link to (a fully-mixed and professionally recorded) mp3 of the concert later. Check out Slim Eppinger, an important blues and R&B and soul guitarist in Chattanooga.

You can also go to my website and find a pdf file of a semi-scholarly/general-reader magazine article I wrote, "Doing Fine on Big Nine," from ETSU's Now and Then Magazine.

One big connection with Virginia and all this Black music from Chattanooga is that many of these guys played in Virginia, at clubs and frat parties, during their bands' heyday. They played colleges all up and down the mid-Atlantic. Easter's Weekend at U.Va. would not have been the same without the Coachmen or the Inclines in the 1960s, or later groups into the '70s. Clyde Stubblefield played drums for James Brown in University Hall back in the day.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ninth Street Revival Chattanooga

From around the turn of the 20th Century until roughly 1970, old Ninth Street in Chattanooga (now Martin Luther King Boulevard) was a hot bed of Black musical innovation and small business entrepreneurship. From the days when young Bessie Smith sang and danced on the street in the 1890s, until the 1960s, when a national policy of "urban renewal meant Negro removal," as the folk saying goes, old Ninth Street was an oasis of African American culture in the region. (The "urban renewal" movement in southern cities during mid-century thus takes its place alongside the Trail of Tears and the removal of farmers for the TVA lakes as another devastating social and cultural upheaval in the name of "progress.")

In the early 1990s, a small group of local non-profits and African American musicians participated in a fieldwork, documentary and performance project called "The Ninth Street Revival." Local musicians remembered and told stories about "Big Nine," and about the community of Black musicians whose classical, blues, jazz, jump, swing, big-band and combo, soul and funk music embodied and defined a folk cultural milieu for thousands of Southern colored people, Negroes, Blacks and African Americans, through the eras of Jim Crow and the Black Power movement.

The Ninth Street Revival project was funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund. My salary was paid for by Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga. Partners included the Chattanooga African American Museum and the Mary Walker Foundation.

Just some of the musicians: Willie "Poppa" Stubbs, "Dog" Davis, "Slim" Eppinger, Marvin and Lenell Glass, Vivian Lee, Johnny Starr, Gene Covington, Clyde Stubblefield, the Gospel Inspirers, Skin Deep, the Gospel Songbirds, and many others.

I'm going to start uploading scores of photos and music samples from this project to this blog, and to my website over the next few weeks. (the first picture I uploaded is me on the left, next to guitarist Slim Eppinger, soul singer Johnny Starr, and band leader and trombonist Willie "Poppa" Stubbs, and was taken by the late Reggie Days, a gifted amateur photographer from Chattanooga.)

In the meantime, read the article, "Doin' Fine on Big Nine," in Now and Then, The Appalachian Magazine, Vol. 12, No. 2, published by the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services, East Tennessee State University, Summer, 1995.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hellfire and banjoes

The last two clips from my fieldwork videos from 1988-91:

Excerpt #14: Taped at a revival meeting at the Boiling Springs Baptist Church, Cherokee County. Unidentified preacher. I have many times used this clip as an illustration of oral narrative and what folklorists call "formulaic composition" in traditional southern mountain sermon style. Like African American sermon style, traditional Appalachian "shouted" sermonizing is often misread by the uninitiated as "angry." This style of preaching goes back, in both Black and Anglo traditions, at least to the Second Great Awakening.

Excerpt #15: Banjo player Hobby Whitener, with gospel piano player Ruby Russell. The two are neighbors in Marble, North Carolina. I'm on the far left on guitar, and local tree surgeon Scott Ferguson, on my left, plays fiddle. This is a program we put together for public school teachers from Chattanooga.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

When Suzy Was a Baby; 100 year old quilts

JCCFS fieldwork excerpt #4. (See other video posts below for more information).

Segment #11: Martin's Creek Elementary School third-graders demonstrate children's folk rhyming game "When Suzy was a Baby."

Segment #12: I visited 94-year-old master quilter Blanche Conley Young, her daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter in Maryville, Tennessee. Mrs. Young was originally from Peachtree, North Carolina.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Mountain looms; shaped notes; split-oak baskets; bluegrass

Installment #3 of fieldwork from a three-year residency as a folklorist at the Campbell Folk School.

Excerpt #8: Wilma Hatchett McNabb, at age 94 the winner of the 1990 North Carolina Folk Heritage Award. Mrs. McNabb had learned to weave as a small girl on the old mountain loom of her mother's, but became a serious weaver in the early years of the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild and the craft revival of the 1920s-30s.

Excerpt #9: The Tuesday Night Singing at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Hanging Dog, North Carolina. The group was a remnant of the Cherokee County Singing Convention, which disbanded in 1948, and included several veteran shaped-note gospel song leaders.

Excerpt #10: Bill and Bonnie Barker of Upper Peachtree, North Carolina. Bill was the last traditional maker of split-oak baskets in Cherokee County, having learned from his mother and his father-in-law.

Excerpt #11: The Mashburn Brothers bluegrass band, of Union County, Georgia, at a benefit concert at the Hanging Dog Community Center. With banjoist Don Fox of Hiawassee, Georgia, and fiddler Red Roberts, originally of Owl Creek, North Carolina.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Woodcarvers; left-handed fiddler; metal men; banjo-playing women

More video excerpts from fieldwork in western North Carolina, east-central Tennessee and north Georgia, 1988-91, while I was working on grants from the NEA and the NC Arts Council:

Segment #5: Ray Mann, one of the original Brasstown Carvers, and one of the last of his generation of Carvers, at his home in Warne. NC.

Segment #6: Ross Brown, old-time north Georgia fiddler, at his home in Hiawassee, Georgia. The tune is "Sweet Marie."

Segment #7: Adam Ledford, of Jack Rabbit, NC. Folk artist, metal sculptor, and shade tree mechanic. Ledford's elaborate and fanciful scrap-metal men and animals were displayed at the Knoxville World's Fair.

Segment #8: Roberta Voyles, banjo, and John Debty, guitar, Marble, NC. Roberta and John, brother and sister, learned to play from their father and his friends, who had an old-time string band that played dances throughout Cherokee County and beyond (though Roberta, being a good girl, was not allowed to attend).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

long-bow fiddler; culture worker; Leatherwood singers

This is the first of several video clips I'll be posting, excerpts from fieldwork I did while folklorist-in-residence at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. All the original documentary materials from those years are archived at the Folk School, which is right on the North Carolina-Georgia-Tennessee border in what used to be called "the Southern Highlands" of Appalachia. I'll gradually add more detailed commentary about each clip.

Segment #1: Ben Entrekin, fiddle, with Sam White, guitar. Ben was a champion fiddler at the Knoxville World's Fair, and was the son-in-law of the legendary Cherokee fiddler, Manco Sneed.

Segment #2: An interview with Margaret Campbell at her home in Gatlinburg, TN. Ms. Campbell was instrumental in the craft revival of the 1930s, helping to start the Brasstown Carvers. Here she shows two carvings in her personal collection, by Tom Brown of Pleasant Hill, Tennessee. These carvings are featured in the Allen Eaton's 1937 survey, Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands, which was funded and published by the Russell Sage Foundation. The book also included the iconic photography of Doris Ulmann.

Segment #3: The Leatherwood Singers of Peachtree, North Carolina. This clip includes three generations of the gospel-singing family.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Singing and Praying Band in Kent Co., MD

From the Maryland Eastern Shore: photos from fieldwork on the Delmarva Peninsula in 2001: Mt. Olive AME Church, Kent County. The event was a reunion during revival week, and a visit from another Maryland church.

This particular event was a special song service, a revival of an old practice that had died out on the Shore in living memory, but has continued in a few congregations in Maryland on the western side of the Chesapeake: the "singing and praying band." It is a special worship service that includes ceremonial aspects that are surprisingly similar to the well-documented "ring shout" of the South Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands.

Many Black congregations and communities on the Eastern Shore are among the oldest continuous Black communities in the United States. This service took place only a few miles from the plantation where Harriett Tubman came of age as a slave.

There are also families on the Shore who trace their ancestry to colonial free Black communities. Some in the Virginia counties claim descent from Black families who had never been enslaved, but were, back in the 17th Century, formerly-indentured servants who themselves owned slaves.

I was hired to document the event by the Kent County Arts Council. I also have digital and analog audio, and video footage. For more information see my website.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Fieldwork Photography from SC, 2000-2002

Here is a Picasa slideshow of photos from fieldwork I did over the course of a couple of years before I started working in Charlottesville in 2002. At the time, I was doing a lot of contract fieldwork, mostly for the South Carolina Arts Commission. I 've also done similar work for the Mississippi Arts Commission, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Federation, and other such-like organizations.

For more on the SC projects, visit my original website. There's a pdf of a published report on my folk cultural survey of Edgefield, Abbeville, Greenwood and McCormick Counties. Other photos are from Columbia, and Lexington County. (Originals all on file in Columbia.)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

decent Xtian songs for kids?

I'm about to go do one of my favorite things, which is taking my guitar to St. John's Episcopal Church to play and sing for the little guys' Sunday School class. The 4-7 year olds are a great audience, though their attention span is, like, 3 seconds.

I find the repertoire for kids rather limited, though. I cannot abide any of the insipid Jesus music written in recent decades, but prefer all the old folk songs and spirituals, and the occasional English hymn.

Any suggestions? I'm desperate, since my own attention span is only marginally better than the kids'.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Good morning, central Virginia!

Hey all:

All of a sudden with a lot of time on my hands . . .

I will be spending a lot of time in coming weeks getting my own archival files and folklore collections in order. In particular, I'm going to begin digitizing all my old Hi-8 video footage from fieldwork in Tennessee and Maryland's Eastern Shore. Also, some VHS footage from North Carolina and Georgia. Then I'm going to start posting highpoints of the video on YouTube, and embed mp4s on my website, formerly the site of the Southern Council for Folk Culture.

And playing guitar.

That picture of me playing the old 12-string dobro is, by the way, from last year's Spirit Walk in Charlottesville. I'm in character as 1920s cowboy singer Billy Vest, who hailed from Afton, Virginia, and recorded on Columbia Records back in the day. He had an amazing story. He met and played with Jimmie Rodgers; the Carter Family; Gid Tanner, Riley Puckett and the Skillet Likkers; Darby and Tarleton, and was even in the movies with Gene Autry and played in his band.

Normally I wear my boots inside my pants. And that 1970s leather pimp jacket from Mexico I'll never wear ever again, I promise. Mostly because it got rained on and shrank, which didn't improve its looks any.