Hutchins Library
Special Collections & Archives
The Reuben Powell Papers

Accession Number: 65
Reuben Powell Papers (1910-1982)
9.2 linear ft.
Online Catalog Record (BANC)

Series I - A-Z Miscellaneous
Series II - Performers
Series III - Biographical and Recordings Classification
Series IV - Festivals
Series V - Radio Stations
Series VI - Record Companies
Series VII - Renfro Valley
Series VIII - Subject Files
Series IX - Locators
Series X - Sound Recordings

Access and Use:

Provenance: These materials were donated by Reuben Powell. Later his family donated 800 more reel-to-reel recordings.

Preferred Citation: Reuben Powell Papers, Berea College Special Collections & Archives, Berea, Ky.

Overview of the Collection

These are correspondence, discographies, printed material, notes and sound recordings that reflect Kentucky native, Reuben Powell's efforts at documenting a host of early country music performers and radio programs. Also included among the sound recordings is Powell's extensive autobiographical "Autotapeography," in which he chronicles his life and times in much detail.

The collecting activity reflected in this collection began in the early 1950s and continued well into the 1970s.

Related Archives

Bradley Kincaid Papers, 1923-1988, SAA 13
John Lair Papers, 1930-1984, SAA 66>
John Lair - Renfro Valley Barn Dance Oral History Collection 1994-1999, SAA 95
McLain Family Band Records, SAA 86


Powell was born in McCreary County, Kentucky (1910). After his 1968 retirement from work as chief utility engineer at Wright Patterson Airforce Base in Ohio, Powell and his wife Retha started the Renfro Valley Tape Club as a means of sharing the fruits of his collecting with other country music fans. Its appeal was particularly substantial among those of Powell's contemporaries who were disenchanted with the then newer country music expressions that they perceived as sounding too modern. At the club's height, Powell was circulating reel-to-reel tape copies of early commercial recordings and radio programs to a membership that represented most states and ten foreign countries.

In his collecting Powell focused mainly on the country music and musicians prominent during the period 1930 to 1950. He was especially interested in performers having Kentucky connections and any associated with such radio programs as the National Barn Dance and the Renfro Valley Barn Dance.

Reuben Powell died in Springfield, Ohio, in 1982.

Contents of the Collection

Paper materials in this collection are arranged alphabetically by performer name and under such subject headings as Recording Companies, Radio Stations, Folk Festivals, and Renfro Valley Tape Club. Correspondence is scattered throughout and is filed in the relevant personal name or subject folder.

The recordings portion of the collection consists of 1600 reel-to-reel audio tapes containing both published and unpublished material pertaining to American country and traditional music. Much of the material is taken from commercially released 78 rpm records (1920-1955) and covers virtually every artist and string band of stature in the annals of country music. Many of these recordings have never been reissued. There are also several hundred radio program recordings of the Chicago based WLS National Barn Dance, Kentucky's Renfro Valley Barn Dance and Sunday Gatherin' and Armed Forces Radio Service presentations featuring a large number of Grand Ole Opry performers (1940s-1980s). Recorded interview material documents such early Kentucky artists as Blind Dick Burnett, John V. Walker, Ernest Martin, Bradley Kincaid, Doc Roberts, and several associated with the National Barn Dance and Renfro Valley Barn Dance, such as John Lair and Lily May Ledford. Tune title, performer names, record labels, and names of interviewees are searchable via an in-house database. Powell deemed these recordings most consistent with Berea's traditional music focus. The additional recordings donated by his family have yet to be indexed.

70 manuscript boxes, 10 file card boxes

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