Accession Number: 65
Reuben Powell Papers (1910-1982)
9.2 linear ft.
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
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.
Kincaid Papers, 1923-1988, SAA 13
Lair Papers, 1930-1984, SAA 66>
John Lair - Renfro Valley Barn Dance Oral History Collection 1994-1999, SAA
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
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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