Pete was seventeen years of age in 1936 when he accompanied his father to Asheville to attend Lunsford’s Mountain Dance and Folk Festival. During Fiona Ritchie and my Wayfaring Strangers book interview with Pete at his home above the Hudson River, Pete recalled that “ordinary working people were making fantastically good music.” The youthful Pete Seeger was mesmerized as Lunsford presided on the spotlighted stage over a parade of square-dance teams, family string bands, singers, fiddlers, and banjo players. There Pete had his formative exposure to the five-string banjo played by Samantha Bumgarner, from whom he acquired his first such instrument. Pete recalled that Lunsford patiently showed him basic banjo licks that Pete would practice and perfect over subsequent years.
Congratulations to Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr for their New York Times Bestseller, Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia! We’re giving away 5 signed copies to our subscribers!
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It is generally known that the American banjo’s origins trace back to West Africa and a gourd-like instrument the gnomi, among other names. However, the plantations were something of an incubator for music of the African American slaves in a variety of forms: the fiddle, learned at the plantation house; the call-and-response work songs from the toil of the plantation fields; spirituals stemming from church worship—often clandestine services or camp meetings with hidden messages of freedom’s call; and the hush lullabies sung by mammies to their babies, and sung with irony to the children of the plantation overlords.
In Scotland, Ulster and Appalachia, the songs have always been viewed as more important than any one individual singer. The anonymous authorship of much of the repertoire meant that no one questioned the fact that people often had their own family versions of ballads, or that they varied in different geographical areas. The tradition of singing and passing songs on has had an unbroken momentum across time and place. In fact, the urge to make music and share it has been even more vital than the repertoire itself. Like any good story, a good song (and the ballads are all stories after all) will live on. It’s the same with strong melodies: they also often have independent lives and may be paired up with many songs and different dances. No one owns this stuff. It belongs to everyone.
When NPR first partnered with me in presenting The Thistle & Shamrock®, we talked about using my radio show to open a doorway into a world of evolving Celtic music traditions for public radio listeners. I could never have imagined how far that door would swing open my way, too, helping inspire my search for the depth of connection that underpins our migration story in Wayfaring Strangers.
A worker in the Bank of America Corporate Center in Charlotte who asks you to “mash the button” for the elevator or to “he’p him tote the computer right yonder” would get a quizzical look or a patronizing chuckle for “talking country” in the towering edifice representing the second-largest financial center in the United States. But those who react in condescension may not realize that this way of speaking was the dialect norm in the city just a couple of generations ago—and probably in the residential home that once stood on this site. As one elderly Charlotte resident, born in 1919, recalled: “I remember when Discovery Place was just a little neighborhood store.”
UNC Press needs your help in a matching funds challenge to pay for inserting music CDs in a forthcoming book about the Scots-Irish music of Appalachia.
Remembering Pete Seeger through interviews conducted by William Ferris in his book “The Storied South” and by Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr for their book “Wayfaring Strangers.”
Our North Carolina icons feature this week focuses on food, games, and culture of the Appalachian region.
What is missing here is any social and economic context. True, the Civil War is the film’s encompassing social explanation, but it leaves me wondering why the set of social and economic circumstances that confronted folks in post war Appalachia is completely ignored. In the Tug Valley, as in all Appalachia and even the entire South, economic decline was a serious threat to almost everyone.
The History Channel will be airing a three-part miniseries about the Hatfield and McCoy families starting on Memorial Day. The miniseries stars Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton, Mare Winningham, and lots and lots of guns and violence. Historian Altina L. Waller, author of Feud: Hatfields, McCoys, and Social Change in Appalachia, 1860-1900, was interviewed extensively for the accompanying documentary to the miniseries.
On the discovery of Confederate tchotkes in a not-so-Confederate region of the South
There are about 35 million acres of beautiful mountains that extend from northern Virginia down to north Georgia. They’ve been going through a glorious transformation of color over the last few weeks. If you’ve never visited the Appalachians in fall, you’re missing out on a breathtaking treat from nature. In Mountain Nature: A Seasonal Natural …
We are delighted to announce that new and recent issues of the popular journal Southern Cultures are now available in ebook format. Light up your Kindle with the spring 2010 issue, the summer 2010 special “southern lives” issue, and the fall 2010 special roots music issue. (Check out all three issues at the UNC Press …
Alan Jabbour, who authored Decoration Day in the Mountains: Traditions of Cemetery Decoration in the Southern Appalachians with his wife Karen Singer Jabbour, provides some insight to a grassroots ritual that led to the creation of a federal holiday. –alyssa Many rural community cemeteries in western North Carolina hold “decorations.” A decoration is a religious …