Hutchins Library
Special Collections & Archives
Guide to the Lily May Ledford Collection

Accession Number: 79
The Lily May Ledford Collection(1917-1985)
Papers, 1936-1985
0.2 linear feet
Online Catalog Record (BANC)

Series I
Series II
Series III
Series IV
Series V

Access and Use:

Provenance: This collection brings together material formerly found in Berea College's Appalachian Center and Hutchins Library's Appalachian Vertical Files with manuscript and photographic items made available by Ledford's granddaughter, Cari Norris.

Preferred Citation: Lily May Ledford Collection, Berea College Special Collections, Berea, Ky.

Overview of the Collection

The Lily May Ledford Collection consists of autobiographical writing, press clippings, articles, and photographs documenting the career of country music performer, Lily May Ledford (1917-1985).

Related Archives


Lily May Ledford grew up in eastern Kentucky's rural Powell County, one of fourteen children. She learned ballads and hymns from her mother and fiddle tunes and popular songs from her father. She learned to play the fiddle, harmonica and banjo quite early, and in her teens she began performing for community dances and entertaining tourists that visited the scenic Red River Gorge area near her home.

In the late 1930s she came to the attention of Kentucky radio entrepreneur John Lair, who was working as a producer and MC for country music programs on Chicago radio station WLS. She was well received by WLS audiences and eventually came to work for Lair when he started his own radio show, the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, first in Cincinnati and later at Renfro Valley in Rockcastle County Kentucky.

Lily May and sisters Rosie and Minnie were the key members of the Coon Creek Girls, arguably the first all-female string band. They were among the most popular performers on John Lair's radio programs on Cincinnati's WLW and Louisville's WHAS, beginning in 1937 and extending into the early 1950s.

After several years of relative retirement Lily May resumed performing in the 1960s at various folk festivals, including those in Newport, RI; Washington, DC; and Montreal, Canada.

She was Berea College's Artist-in-Residence 1979-1980. In 1985 she was named a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship Award in recognition of her legacy of traditional tunes and banjo picking techniques. Traditional songs identified particularly with her include "Banjo Pickin' Girl," "How Many Biscuits Can You Eat?" and "John Henry."

1 Manuscript Box

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