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Appalachian Music Fellowship Program - 2006
 

Ajay Kalra

Fellowship Activity Report (107KB)
Report Exerpts

Performer Profiles

Ajay KalraAjay Kalra (June - July, 2006) is a Ph.D. student in Ethnomusicology at the University of Texas at Austin. In 1999 he left behind a medical career in India to study bluegrass and country music performance at East Tennessee State University. There he earned an M.A. in Liberal Studies and became deeply involved in researching the music and culture of the region. He served as an assistant editor for the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, for which he wrote a number of articles on Appalachian music. While at Berea he focused on analyzing the repertoires and playing styles of the seventeen African American performers who have appeared at Berea’s Celebration of Traditional Music since its beginning in 1974.

Excerpts from Ajay Kalra’s Music Fellowship Activity Report highlighting continuing themes and issues relevant to Berea’s Celebration of Traditional Music (CTM):


While in its early years, the Celebration of Traditional Music was able to procure the occasional surviving black fiddle or banjo player from the region, clearly for several decades guitarists have dominated older styles of secular music performance among blacks in the region. And although most of the guitarists who performed at the CTM through the years were hailed as “traditional” performers and were also presented in that way at other similar venues, most of them had been widely eclectic and playing the popular repertoire during their halcyon days.
                                                                            · · · · · · ·
Just as African Americans hung up the fiddle and the banjo in favor of the guitar at the beginning of the last century, a majority of them have since rejected that instrument and music that over the decades had become traditional to it to find newer vehicles for their progressive cultural visions. While it increases the value of archival recordings of rural guitar music as historical artifact, this trend also raises doubts regarding such traditional music’s relationship to the contemporary experiences of the community for which it supposedly speaks.
                                                                          · · · · · · ·
Next to guitar-based music, religious music, from a number of genres and rendered in a variety of styles, has been the strongest African American musical presence at Berea’s Celebration of Traditional Music. Although in the secular realm, beginning in the early years of the twentieth century, guitar- and keyboard-based music largely displaced older rural African American fiddle and banjo music, in the sacred field many elements of older traditions have continued within the context of more contemporaneous twentieth-century styles. While modern gospel music—which itself had a great many contributions from Appalachian or Appalachian-born innovators, especially Thomas A. Dorsey, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, and the Swan Silvertones—dominates Appalachian African American religious expression, whether in the church or on the stage, a number of performers at CTM over the years have presented interpretations of nineteenth century traditions—both folk and art.
                                                                          · · · · · · ·
Introductory treatments of playing styles, instrumentation, and repertoire arising from Kalra’s research and related audio files are available for these African American CTM performers:

Guitar-based music Religious music Fiddle music
Etta Baker Edward J. Cabbell Bill Livers
Eugene “Buddy” Moss Berea College Black Music Ensemble Earl White
Robert “Bud” Garrett Sons of Glory  
Moses Rascoe Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Banjo music
Foddrell Brothers (& Lynn Foddrell) The Tri-City Messengers Uncle Homer Walker
Nat Reese The Mighty Gospel Harmonizers  
Drink Small
Folk songs
 
James “Sparky”Rucker Joan Salmon-Campbell  

 

Performer Profiles

Etta Baker (1913-2006)
Etta BakerEtta Baker, born in Caldwell County and last living in Morganton, North Carolina, was one of the most influential of all traditional alternating-thumb style guitarists. Her melodic style, learned largely from her father Boone Reid, and featured on the influential compilation Traditional Music of the Southern Appalachians (Tradition, 1956) made this classic Piedmont guitar style one of the most influential on the 1960s folk revival. Her 1983 Berea performances predate her commercial recordings which started appearing only in 1991 and include three tunes she had not recorded commercially.   (more... 47KB)      (Photo by David Holt www.davidholt.com)
 
Eugene “Buddy” Moss (1914-1984)
Eugene “Buddy” MossMoss, born in Jewel, Georgia, has been hailed by blues scholars as one of the most influential of southeastern blues guitarists of the pre-WW II era. Unlike Etta Baker, Moss was a commercially successful Atlanta-based “Piedmont blues” guitarist who had a much more diverse stylistic palette. He was influential more on contemporary popular blues artists in the 1930s than on folk revivalists and is seen as a link between Blind Arthur Blake and Blind Boy Fuller. At his 1977 and 1978 CTM performances, Moss played both in a Blake-inspired ragtime guitar style and a more contemporary style with long sinuous upper-register licks that also differed from the delta-blues-and-ragtime synthesis he popularized and likely passed on to Blind Boy Fuller in the 1930s. (more... 34KB)
 
Robert “Bud” Garrett (1916-1987)
Bud GarrettGuitarist, singer, marble maker, and café, juke joint and record store owner, Bud Garrett was a central figure in Free Hill, Tennessee, one of a few settlements founded before the Civil War by freed slaves. Garrett started his playing career accompanying older community musicians who played banjos and fiddles at both black and white dances. Similarly, the songs toward which he later gravitated, in his case coming from the juke box and record store he operated, had an equal split between black and white sources. Documented at Berea in 1984, his adaptations of country, blues, and rhythm and blues were as distinctly his own as his amusing ditties about life in Free Hill. (more... 41KB)
 
Moses Rascoe (1917-1994)
Moses RascoeRascoe, born in Windsor, North Carolina, spent most of his adult life as a truck driver living in the Appalachian foothills town of York, Pennsylvania. He taught himself to play the blues from listening to records. When he started performing following retirement and was “discovered” in the late 1980s, he became a minor legend on the folk festival and coffeehouse circuit as one of the last remaining “rural” bluesmen. In Rascoe’s laid-back interpretations, the pre-war urban Atlanta blues of Blind Willie McTell and Blind Boy Fuller sat comfortably alongside the post-war urban blues of Jimmy Reed and older numbers from shared black and white music traditions such as blues ballads and Southern religious music. Eleven of the numbers Rascoe performed at Berea in 1989 are not available on commercial recordings. (more... 39KB)
 
Foddrell Brothers (& Lynn Foddrell). Marvin (1923-198_), Turner (1927-1995).
Foddrell BrothersThe Foddrell Brothers, born in the early 1920s in Patrick County, Virginia, started performing widely only in the later years of their lives and first performed at Berea in 1978. Both Marvin and Turner learned their individual variants of the classic melodic alternate-thumb Piedmont picking guitar style from their locally renowned father Posey. They applied it to a staggering variety of popular repertoire including Tin Pan Alley standards, various subgenres of country music, early Chicago blues, boogie-woogie, and even rock and roll. Turner’s son Lynn joined the group on bass for the 1982 and 1983 Berea performances and after his father’s death in 1995 continued to perform with a cousin Doug Turner to continue the family tradition. In addition to the Berea performances, several additional audio cuts of tunes and commentary by the Foddrells may be heard as part of the Ferrum College Blue Ridge Institute recordings in the Digital Library of Appalachia. (more... 37KB)
 
Nat Reese (1924- )
Nat ReeseBorn in Virginia, guitarist and singer Nat Reese spent most of his life in the coalfield region of southern West Virginia. He worked in the coal mines only eight years, but it was enough to leave him with black lung disease. As a result, Reese turned to his musical skills to make a living as a professional musician in coal towns. As playing the occasional house parties was not adequate to keep a musician in business, he learned to play Tin Pan Alley and swing jazz standards from sheet music. Although usually labeled the “West Virginia bluesman,” Reese has continued to display his affinity for the aforementioned popular genres throughout his career, both in his repertoire and his sophisticated approach to coloring the blues with passing chords. (more... 32KB)
 
Drink Small (1936- )
Drink SmallSmall, born in Bishopville, South Carolina, performed at Berea in 1980. He is a master of a number of African American guitar, keyboard, and vocal music traditions who is, still, not a staunch traditionalist in his personalized renditions of those heritages. A self-taught musician, Small can reference such African American greats as T-Bone Walker, Wes Montgomery, Pops Staples, Albert King, and even Jimi Hendrix in the course of a single guitar solo. Also well versed in a number of African American religious vocal traditions, Small excels at the nineteenth-century slave spiritual such as “Go Down Moses” rendered in his booming “Mississippi cotton fields moan.” Small’s Berea performances also document his talents as a proficient blues and boogie-woogie pianist. (more... 44KB)
 
James “Sparky” Rucker (1946- )

Sparky RuckerSparky Rucker, born in Knoxville, Tennessee, has made seven CTM appearances between 1976 and 2002. He was strongly influenced by both the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and by a number of storytelling performers. These included his two preacher uncles and sociopolitical activists Guy Carawan and Pete Seeger. Adding to this his experience as a school teacher, Rucker, often accompanied on harmonica and vocals by his wife Rhonda, presents musical programs in American history, especially its chapters of minority experiences that are not often opened.

Although Rucker favored the delta blues initially, it is a rare genre in North American traditional music that has not found its way into his extensive repertoire. The historian and educator in him revels in opportunities such as the Celebration of Traditional Music where a seated, attentive college audience affords him the apposite atmosphere to challenge popular notions regarding racial issues appertaining to the music that he plays. Rucker, a consummate and witty storyteller, however, always has a firm handle on the requisite balance between edification and entertainment — the two stated goals of the CTM.

 
Edward J. Cabbell
Edward J. CabbellEdward J. Cabbell, born 1946 and raised in McDowell County West Virgina, presently lives in Princeton, West Virginia. A preeminent Appalachian scholar and activist since 1969, he was the first African American to earn a graduate degree in Appalachian studies. In addition to being a historian of black culture, Cabbell is also an exceptional singer of a cappella folk spirituals, many of which he learned from the singing of his grandmother. During his performance at Berea, he also had some success in recreating the responsorial practice of antebellum spiritual singing by involving the audience in clapping, foot tapping, and “moaning.” (more... 34KB)
 
Berea College Black Music Ensemble
Berea College Black Music EnsembleIn the long lineage of concert music trained African American college choral groups that stretches back to the 1871 formation of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Berea’s Black Music Ensemble is well versed in most genres of African American religious music from the slave spiritual to the most contemporary sounds in commercial gospel recording. Although the ensemble has a membership usually exceeding sixty, depending upon context and repertoire, its members perform arrangements for solo, quartet, small group, or choir, a cappella or with a variable musical accompaniment. In addition to the recordings from the ensemble’s two CTM performances, Berea’s archives have extensive audio and video documentation of the evolution of the group’s style and repertoire over almost four decades and should provide interesting material for researchers interested in studying how upwardly mobile educated Appalachian blacks have integrated their older traditions with ever changing contemporary trends in popular and art music.
 
Sons of Glory
The Sons of Glory are a Wilmore, Kentucky based gospel quartet in the tradition of the popular groups from the 1940s and 1950s. Ate the time of their 1996 CTM appearance the group consisted of Joe Lincoln White, Robert White, Tom Meads, and Ernest McCann, all from a family singing tradition going back over a hundred years. At Berea, the Sons of Glory favored spare instrumentation with an electric guitar played in a Curtis Mayfield and Pops Staples inspired style and something simulating a bass drum.
 
Northern Kentucky Brotherhood
Tri-City Messengers
Photo of Northern Kentucky BrotherhoodThe Northern Kentucky Brotherhood (photo right) of Covington, Kentucky appeared at Berea in both 1993 and 1995. The Tri-City Messengers of Lynch, Kentucky were present for the 2002 CTM. By including five and six members respectively, these two groups offer variations on the acappella gospel quartet sound. The additional members in the configuration allow for an easier and freer switching of roles between the leads and one of the harmony parts.
 
The Mighty Gospel Harmonizers

The Mighty Gospel Harmonizers of Lexington, Kentucky sang at the 1997 CTM. They take their cue from the classic gospel quartet singing of such 1940s acts as the Golden Gate Quartet and the Swan Silvertones from Coalwood, West Virginia. The Harmonizers’ version of the popular traditional “Shine on Me,” for instance, takes after the Silvertones’ arrangement. (Shine on Me is likely a folk spiritual as it was recorded by a number of artists not particularly influenced by twentieth-century gospel including by the Rev. Gary Davis, Leadbelly, the Greenbriar Boys, and in a shape-note style by Ernest Phipps and the Phipps Family.) Their versions of “Gospel Train,” “Meeting At the Old Campground,” and “This Train (is Bound for Glory)” feature driving rhythms provided by electric bass, chopping electric rhythm guitar, and hand claps in the hard gospel style of the Golden Gates.

 
Joan Salmon-Campbell
Joan Salmon-Campbell photoThe first woman and first African American pastor of the Arlington Presbyterain Church, Arlington, VA, the Rev. Salmon-Campbell sang three songs, two secular and a folk spiritual, at the 1977 Celebration of Traditional Music. Her style, according to the song, can vary from that of classic blues female singers (a number of whom including Bessie Smith and Ida Cox were born in Appalachia), as on the piano-accompanied 12-bar blues “Feel So Sad and Sorrow,” to an almost operatic style coming from her training at the Eastman School of Music as on the John Jacob Niles popularized traditional “Black is the Color” and a concert spiritual style rendition of the folk spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”
 
Bill Livers

Bill LiversBill Livers, born in Monterey, Owen County, Kentucky, was sixty when he performed at the 1975 CTM backed by the white revivalist Red Hot String Band. As have been the majority of African American performers at the CTM, he was a songster who played tunes from a wide variety of traditional and popular music genres he heard growing up. At Berea he played thirteen numbers, most with vocals, eight of which were captured on video in addition to audio tape. His music was also extensively documented by John Harrod and more than sixty additional unique recordings of Liver’s music are part of Berea’s John Harrod collection.

Perhaps more than standard old time fiddle tunes, Livers seemed to enjoy playing Tin Pan Alley and early jazz standards such as James Bland’s “In the Evening by the Moonlight,” Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen’s “Stormy Weather,” Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn’s “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,” and Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose”; country standards such as the Skillet Lickers’ favorite “Sweet Bunch of Daisies,” Jimmie Davis’s “Nobody’s Darling But Mine,” Pee Wee King’s “Tennessee Waltz” and Leon McAuliffe’s “Steel Guitar Rag.” He also did pieces that reflected variously on black-white relationships through different periods of history including “Run, Nigger, Run (The Pateroller Song)”, minstrel songs including James Bland’s “Oh Dem Golden Slippers,” and even outright derogatory songs from the late nineteenth century coon song genre such as “Big Fat Coon.”

 
Earl White
Earl WhiteEarl White, was living in Santa Cruz, California at the time of his 2004 CTM appearance. In 1971 he helped found the North Carolina based Appalachian dance group, The Green Grass Cloggers. White bequeathed his name to a popular syncopated dance step “The Earl,” which is still taught at clogging workshops. He started playing fiddle in 1974 and spent long periods collecting fiddle tunes in the mountains, mostly from white fiddlers who at times credited black sources for some tunes and stylistic elements. One such tune is “Riley and Spencer” which White learned from Tommy Jarrell. Others of his extensive repertoire played at Berea include “Mole in the Ground,” and “Fire On the Mountain” along with more recent old time-style tunes that do not have explicit connections with black traditions.
 
John "Uncle Homer" Walker
John "Uncle Homer" WalkerJohn "Uncle Homer" Walker born in Summers County, West Virginia in either 1904 or 1898, was one of the few remaining Appalachian African American banjo players performing in the later 1900s when he played at CTM in1978. In addition to the three songs played at Berea an additional ten audio cuts of tunes and commentary by Walker may be heard as part of the Ferrum College Blue Ridge Institute recordings in the Digital Library of Appalachia. (more... 35KB)

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