Sepia Tones: Exploring Black Appalachian Music—E1: Bagpipes, banjos, ngonis, and gourds
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)