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Smoky Mountain Air

Author: Great Smoky Mountains Association

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Smoky Mountain Air brings you the science, stories, and sounds of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hosts Valerie Polk and Karen Key interview authors, scientists, and park experts about life in the Smokies past and present. A production by Great Smoky Mountains Association.
9 Episodes
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On this episode of our mini-series Sepia Tones, Dr. William Turner and Dr. Ted Olson examine music within rural communities with guests Earl White, Larry Kirksey, and Kip Lornell. Each of our guests has been on their own quest, whether seeking the musical kinship of other black performers past and present, finding a life outside of Kentucky coal camps, or documenting the rich musical landscape of rural communities.Earl White is an accomplished fiddler and prominent figure of old-time music and dance. He was a founding member of The Green Grass Cloggers, and his energetic and rhythmic fiddle style is showcased through his vast repertoire of Appalachian music. He resides in Floyd County, VA, where he and his wife run a farm and bakery.Larry Kirksey grew up in Harlan County in the Appalachian region of Kentucky, sharing a lifelong friendship with our host Dr. William Turner. He went on to become a respected coach in the NFL, achieving victory at Super Bowl XXIX with the San Francisco 49ers. From his beginnings in eastern Kentucky, his work has taken him all over the United States and to other countries.Kip Lornell is a professor of American music and ethnomusicology at George Washington University. He has written a number of books, articles, and essays and was awarded a Grammy in 1997 for his contribution to Smithsonian Folkways’ Anthology of American Folk Music. He studied African American music for many years and completed field work in various areas, including the Appalachian region.Dr. William Turner is a long-time African American studies scholar who first rose to prominence as co-editor of the groundbreaking Blacks in Appalachia. He was also a research assistant to Roots author Alex Haley. Turner retired as distinguished professor of Appalachian Studies and regional ambassador at Berea College. His memoir called The Harlan Renaissance is forthcoming from West Virginia University Press.Dr. Ted Olson is a professor of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University and the author of many books, articles, reviews, encyclopedia entries, and oral histories. Olson has produced and compiled a number of documentary albums of traditional Appalachian music including GSMA’s On Top of Old Smoky and Big Bend Killing. He’s received a number of awards in his work, including seven Grammy nominations. The East Tennessee Historical Society recently honored Olson with its Ramsey Award for Lifetime Achievement.Music selections include: "John Henry" performed by Amythyst Kiah and Roy Andrade from GSMA’s album Big Bend Killing"Shuckin’ the Brush" performed by The Earl White Stringband, from the 2018 Mountains of Music Homecoming CD In the Key of Blue, used courtesy of The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail"G-Rag" performed by the Georgia Yellow Hammers accompanied by Jim and Andrew Baxter, recorded in 1927"Driftin’ and Driftin’" performed by the Foddrell Brothers, accompanied by Lynn Foddrell, at the Berea College Celebration of Traditional Music in 1982, used courtesy of  Berea Sound ArchivesClogging audio clip from the short documentary film "The Green Grass Cloggers" produced in 1978 by David Balch, filmed at the 1978 North Carolina Folklife Festival, used courtesy of The Green Grass Cloggers with thanks to Leanne SmithDevil in the Strawstack" performed for our podcast by Earl White
On this special episode of Smoky Mountain Air, guest hosts Dr. William Turner and Dr. Ted Olson kick off an exciting new mini-series called Sepia Tones: Exploring Black Appalachian Music. Guests Loyal Jones, Sparky Rucker, and James Leva contribute to this lively conversation about the roots of Appalachian music and their own roles in preserving these musical influences.Loyal Jones served as director of the Appalachian Center now named in his honor at Berea College. He established the annual festival of traditional music at Berea and the Appalachian Sound Archive. Jones is the author of numerous books of regional interest.Sparky Rucker grew up in Knoxville, TN, and has become an internationally recognized folk singer, musician, and storyteller. He has been an educator, performer, and social activist and has been involved in the Civil Rights movement since the 1950s.James Leva is a multi-instrumentalist playing the fiddle, guitar, and banjo, and he’s a singer and songwriter. His work with The Lost Tribe of Country Music transcends racial and generational boundaries as well as musical genres.Dr. William Turner is a long-time African American studies scholar who first rose to prominence as co-editor of the groundbreaking Blacks in Appalachia (1985). He was also a research assistant to Roots author Alex Haley. Turner retired as distinguished professor of Appalachian Studies and regional ambassador at Berea College. His memoir called The Harlan Renaissance is forthcoming from West Virginia University Press in 2021.Dr. Ted Olson is a professor of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University and the author of many books, articles, reviews, encyclopedia entries, and oral histories. Olson has produced and compiled a number of documentary albums of traditional Appalachian music including GSMA’s On Top of Old Smoky and Big Bend Killing. He’s received a number of awards in his work as a music historian, including seven Grammy nominations.Music selections in this episode:“John Henry” performed by Amythyst Kiah and Roy Andrade from GSMA's Big Bend Killing (https://www.smokiesinformation.org/big-bend-killing-the-appalachian-ballad-tradition-2-disk-cd)“Careless Love” performed on guitar by Etta Baker, used courtesy of Berea Sound Archive (https://soundarchives.berea.edu/items/show/2455)“Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss” performed by Ali Farka Touré with Lee Sexton and others from an informal gathering at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, used courtesy of Bryan Wright of Rivermont Records“We Shall (We Will) Overcome” from the Highlander Collection of the Southern Folklife Collection, Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC Chapel Hill; used courtesy of the  Septima Clark Learning Center at Highlander Center (https://youtu.be/5YkTUeFViUY)“Come Sit By My Side Little Darlin’” performed by Bill Livers, Berea Sound Archive (https://soundarchives.berea.edu/items/show/6937)“Jola Gambia” performed by Daniel Jatta and the Lost Tribe of Country Music, used courtesy of James Leva (https://soundcloud.com/raisin-music/akonting)“My Home’s Across the Smoky Mountains,” performed by Sparky Rucker at the Berea College Celebration of Traditional Music, 1981, used courtesy of Digital Library of Appalachia’s Berea College collection (https://dla.acaweb.org/digital/collection/berea/id/2625/rec/11)
Our guests Dr. William Turner and Dr. Ted Olson talk about an exciting new podcast mini-series they'll be co-hosting as part of Smoky Mountain Air called Sepia Tones: Exploring Black Appalachian Music. This mini-series can be found right here through this podcast, with new episodes every other month. Dr. William Turner is a long-time African American studies scholar who first rose to prominence as co-editor of the groundbreaking Blacks in Appalachia (1985). He was also a research assistant to Roots author Alex Haley. Turner retired as distinguished professor of Appalachian Studies and regional ambassador at Berea College. His memoir called The Harlan Renaissance is forthcoming from West Virginia University Press in 2021.Dr. Ted Olson is a professor of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University and the author of many books, articles, reviews, encyclopedia entries, and oral histories. Olson has produced and compiled a number of documentary albums of traditional Appalachian music including GSMA's On Top of Old Smoky and Big Bend Killing. He's received a number of awards in his work as a music historian, including seven Grammy nominations.We spoke to Dr. William Turner and Dr. Ted Olson on an online video chat.Music selections in this episode:"My Home's Across the Smoky Mountains" by Sparky Rucker from the Digital Library of Appalachia's Berea College collection (https://dla.acaweb.org/digital/collection/berea/id/2625/rec/11)"John Hardy" by Martin Simpson, featuring Dom Flemons on harmonica and bones, from On Top of Old Smoky: New Old-Time Smoky Mountain Music (https://www.smokiesinformation.org/on-top-of-old-smoky-new-old-time-smoky-mountain-music-cd)"Key to the Highway" by the Foddrell Brothers from the Berea Sound Archive (https://soundarchives.berea.edu/items/show/2652)"John Henry" by Amythyst Kiah and Roy Andrade from Big Bend Killing (https://www.smokiesinformation.org/big-bend-killing-the-appalachian-ballad-tradition-2-disk-cd)"Goin' Down this Road Feelin' Bad" by Amythyst Kiah and Roy Andrade from On Top of Old Smoky: New Old-Time Smoky Mountain Music (https://www.smokiesinformation.org/on-top-of-old-smoky-new-old-time-smoky-mountain-music-cd)
On this episode, we talk to Morgan Simmons and Don Wood, the author and illustrator of Singing Creek—a new book published by GSMA that takes young readers on an adventure of music and survival in the world of a Smoky Mountain stream.Morgan Simmons is a former outdoor editor for the Knoxville News Sentinel. Over the course of his 28-year career, he’s covered environmental issues across Tennessee and wrote a hiking column that explored the history and ecology of the Smokies.Don Wood is an illustrator whose career spans 30 years at the Knoxville Journal, Press-Enterprise (CA), and Knoxville News Sentinel. His work has been published in the Orange County (CA) Register, Nashville Scene, Greater Knoxville Business Journal, Associated Press, and in GSMA's own Smokies Life.In addition to careers at the Knoxville News Sentinel, Simmons and Wood have also shared a long friendship and musical collaborations through the years. In fact, they performed for us a couple of pieces of their music that we include in this episode.To share the story of Molly the crayfish, her musical journey, and the amazing underwater world of a Smoky Mountain stream with the young readers in your life, pick up a copy of Singing Creek at SmokiesInformation.org or at Great Smoky Mountains National Park visitor centers.
On this episode of Smoky Mountain Air, we look back at an interview we recorded a few months ago with David Brill, author of the book Into the Mist, a collection of real-life stories depicting people caught in extreme situations in the Smokies and their dramatic struggles for survival. Into the Mist is published by GSMA and available at SmokiesInformation.org. Brill has also written four other books: As Far as the Eye Can See: Reflections of an Appalachian Trail Thru Hiker (UT Press–Appalachian Trail Conservancy); A Separate Place: A Father's Reflection on Building a Home and Renewing a Family (Plume); Desire and Ice: Searching for Perspective atop Denali (National Geographic Adventure Press); and Cumberland Odyssey: A Journey in Pictures and Words along Tennessee's Cumberland Trail and Plateau (Mountain Trail Press). In addition to his books, Brill's articles on science, ecology, the environment, business, health, fitness, parenting, and adventure-travel have appeared in more than 25 national and regional magazines, including National Geographic Traveler and Men's Health. He is a regular contributor to GSMA's own Smokies Life magazine. During our conversation, Brill shared excerpts from several of his works and reflected on how he came to be a writer after hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. We spoke to David Brill on an online video chat while he was at home in the Cumberland Mountains of East Tennessee.Several of David Brill's Smokies Life articles can be found online in our missing issues, including an account of his grueling, 27-mile, overnight hike on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which he reminisced about during our conversation. That story can be found in Smokies Life Volume 4, issue 1, one of the out-of-print issues online at SmokiesInformation.org/MissingIssues. Other issues of Smokies Life and the book Into the Mist are available at SmokiesInformation.org, where you can shop the Smokies and support GSMA and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
On this episode of Smoky Mountain Air, we look back at an interview we recorded this summer with Vesna Plakanis, owner of A Walk in the Woods, a tour guide service specializing in knowledge of edible and medicinal wild plants, backpacking, and outdoor skills and survival, as well as local human history here in the Smokies. A Walk in the Woods has helped more than 100,000 people explore the Smokies since 1998.We spoke with Plakanis at the height of summer, and she described some of the best wild edibles for that season. Please remember that picking plants is prohibited in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but some fruits, berries, nuts, and certain mushrooms may be gathered for personal use within limits. No wild mushroom should be eaten unless its identification is absolutely certain, which usually requires an expert to determine. ­Many mushrooms are poisonous, some deadly, and the responsibility for eating any mushroom or fungus rests with the individual. As Vesna Plakanis told us, she has been foraging for wild edibles since childhood with her family. Her lifetime of outdoor experiences eventually led her, and her husband Erik, to become expert naturalists. We spoke with Plakanis on an online video chat.Go online to AWalkInTheWoods.com or send an email to info@AWalkInTheWoods.com  to inquire about their program offerings.
“Early 20th century hikers in the Great Smokies were likely to encounter a small Japanese man on the trail. He was 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed a little more than 100 pounds. He might have been burdened with a pack containing a heavy camera, tripod, and accompanying equipment. Or he might be pushing the front wheel of a bicycle connected to handlebars with an odometer attached, a cyclometer, that he used to measure trail mileages. Any conversation with this diminutive man would have entailed responses in broken English. And as likely as not, he would have been accompanied by men and women, his friends, who frequently hiked with him. Years later this same man received a letter written April 20, 1932, from the associate director of the National Park Service, Arno Cammerer, that stated in part, ‘You surely are the Great Smoky Mountains patriot…’”That's a short excerpt from Bill Hart's article about the enigmatic photographer who was born in Japan but came to America and gave his heart to the Great Smoky Mountains region. His name was George Masa, and Hart's article appeared along with a selection of Masa's photographs in one of our ‘missing issues’ of Smokies Life, Volume 2, #2. These missing issues are no longer in print but are available to view online at SmokiesInformation.org/MissingIssues. Our guests Janet McCue and Paul Bonesteel are in the process of co-authoring a biography of George Masa. McCue is an independent writer and researcher, co-author of Back of Beyond: A Horace Kephart Biography, and collaborator on many Kephart projects. She is the former director of Mann Library at Cornell University.Paul Bonesteel is a filmmaker, director, and founder of Bonesteel Films, a production company based in Asheville, NC. His documentary film The Mystery of George Masa (available on Vimeo with promo code "Masa") explores the compelling story of the immigrant who came to the mountains of Western North Carolina, gained employment at the grand Grove Park Inn, connected with many of Asheville's most influential residents, and found his passion in photography and hiking with his friends in the Carolina Mountain Club. We spoke with McCue and Bonesteel on an online video chat while they were in their respective states of New York and North Carolina.A digitized collection of George Masa’s photographs can be found online in the virtual "North Carolina Room" of Buncombe County Library's website.  
Stephen Lyn Bales is the former senior naturalist at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville and the author of Ephemeral by Nature: Exploring the Exceptional with a Tennessee Naturalist, Natural Histories: Stories from the Tennessee Valley, and Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner and the Quest for the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, each published by UT Press. A native of Gatlinburg, he is the great-grandson of Jim Bales whose home site is preserved on Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Bales has written for Smokies Life magazine, including a story on the winter wren, which appeared in one of our missing issues, Volume 9, #1. These missing issues are no longer in print but are available to view online at SmokiesInformation.org/MissingIssues. Stephen Lyn Bales also writes an online blog titled Nature Calling. We spoke with him on an online video chat while he was sitting outside in his Knoxville neighborhood, appropriately surrounded by the sounds of birds.
What goes on in the uppermost layers of a Smoky Mountain forest? Does anything live up there? And who's going to climb up there to find out? “From charismatic microfauna to megafauna—from water bears to black bears—the forest canopy harbors so much,” says author Rose Houk. Join us as we delve into one of the ‘missing issues’ of our biannual publication, Smokies Life, to rediscover Houk's article “Life in the Canopy.” Learn about the diverse wildlife that resides in the forest canopy and the risky, physical work required to identify these creatures. This article appeared in Smokies Life, Volume 9, Issue #2, an older issue now out of print. In addition to this special reading, we are resurrecting some of our ‘missing issues’ and providing them free, digitally, through our virtual magazine, Smokies LIVE.
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