Sepia Tones: Exploring Black Appalachian Music—E5: Amythyst Kiah with Jack Tottle
Dr. William Turner and Dr. Ted Olson talk to Amythyst Kiah, an acclaimed musician and songwriter whose work is redefining genre boundaries and has established her as a distinctive new voice of Appalachia. Reconnecting with Amythyst in this episode is her mentor, Jack Tottle, an accomplished musician with a long career as a singer, songwriter, author, and educator.
Amythyst Kiah has won critical acclaim as a member of the group Our Native Daughters and for her most recent album, Wary + Strange, which melds roots traditions with alternative rock in songs of personal revelation. She is a native of Chattanooga, TN, and a graduate of East Tennessee State University's Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Roots program. She received a Grammy nomination in 2020 for “Black Myself," a song she wrote to confront the oppression of her ancestors and to honor their strength.
Jack Tottle is a multi-instrumentalist, recording artist, songwriter, author, and educator whose career has allowed him to share the stage with some of America’s most revered bluegrass artists. He founded the first comprehensive bluegrass music studies program at a four-year university, East Tennessee State's Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Roots Music Studies program, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. For many years, he has examined the significant influence of Black Appalachian music on the bluegrass canon.
Dr. William Turner is an African American studies scholar and retired Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Studies and Regional Ambassador from Berea College. He was also a research assistant to Roots author Alex Haley and co-editor of the groundbreaking Blacks in Appalachia. In 2021, Turner received Western Carolina University's individual Mountain Heritage Award in recognition of his outstanding contributions to Southern Appalachian studies. His memoir The Harlan Renaissance, available from West Virginia University Press, was awarded the prestigious Weatherford Award at the 2022 Appalachian Studies Association Conference.
Dr. Ted Olson is a music historian and professor of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is 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. His work has received a number of awards, including seven Grammy nominations. The East Tennessee Historical Society honored Olson with its Ramsey Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2021.
Music featured includes:
1. “John Henry” and “Pretty Polly” performed by Amythyst Kiah and Roy Andrade from GSMA’s album Big Bend Killing
2. “The Bluegrass Sound” by Jack Tottle, from a collaborative album he produced called The Bluegrass Sound and Other Stories
3. “Black Myself” performed live by Amythyst Kiah for our podcast. Recordings are available on Songs of Our Native Daughters and Wary + Strange
4. “Goin Down this Road Feelin’ Bad” performed by Amythyst Kiah and Roy Andrade from GSMA’s album On Top of Old Smoky: New Old-Time Smoky Mountain Music