Appalachian Music Fellowship 1

Berea College Appalachian Music Fellowship

Day 1, June 1, 2009

*Researching music and sound archives for historical inspiration/acumen for a poetry manuscript.

*The archivists in the Special Collections Department at Hutchins Library already had a tray of research waiting for me when I arrived this morning. It was like being served a fancy meal in a swank restaurant. The first thing I read was a timeline of the Coon Creek Girls, the first female string band to play on radio. Some highlights:

*8 June 1939: The Coon Creek Girls play before King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at the White House as part of a program of American music organized by Eleanor Roosevelt. (My excuse to work Mrs. Roosevelt into this poetry collection)

*Later in 1939: The Coon Creek Girls play a week-long show in Pittsburgh with the Orson Welles Show one week after his infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast. From a 1994 interview with Evelyn Lange Perry (“Daisy”—all the Coon Creek Girls had to take on flower names): “between shows the fellows in the orchestra, they would tease us because Lily May and Rosie had this terrific southern accent. And they asked us if we ever went barefoot, or, do you wear shoes all the time. . . . So we decided the last show that week . . . we’d do our show barefoot . . . with our regular long dresses and our bows in our hair, and I tell you, these people were high class people, but they just about died. I’m telling you that whole theatre just roared.” One researcher suggests this was a protest by the Coon Creek Girls to subjugate stereotypes, although “Daisy” tells it like it was just a little joke on the boys.

*Cultural prescriptions and strict gender roles made women playing on stage in the 1930s a target of criticism by the public. When one Grand Ole Opry fan wrote a letter expressing his concern over Roy Acuff’s female banjo player (Rachel Veach) playing in a band of men, Acuff began passing her off as the sister of his dobro player.

*Finally, here is the broadcaster’s script for September 19, 1936, the day Lily May Ledford—The Mountain Girl debuted on the WLS National Barn Dance in Chicago. She was 19 years old; she played solo fiddle, and here is the broadcaster’s introduction. I assume it is written in “fake hillbilly” so the broadcaster, John Lair, won’t fur-get how to sound all mountaineer aw-then-tikated and sich like (even though he grew up in Mt. Vernon, Kentucky):

“An now, folks, we’re ready to interduce to ye the newest member of the big WLS family. You’ve read about her, an heard about her this week, an of course you’re anxious to meet her an see what she’s like. Her name is Lily May Ledford. She comes from the Kintucky mountains, from back in one of them dark hollers five miles off the road. She’s five feet an about 9 inches tall, with brown eyes an one of the nicest smiles we’ve seen in a long time. Durin the nineteen years that have passed over her head Lily May hasn’t always had such an easy time of it. When there’s ten mouths to feed in one family everbody hasta do ther part—spechilly when the livin hasta be dug out of a little hillside farm—an many a time she’s had to go out an do a mans work in the corn field er the tobacker patch. Somehow, tho, she found time to do a lot of practicing on her granpappy’s old fiddle an the one ambition of her life has bin to git to Chicago an play on the old barn dance. . . . An now, Lily May, yore big moment has come. All up an down Indian Creek an North Fork an Red River Valley an back in Pinch-em-Tight Holler all yore old frens and kinfolk are gathered round radios waitin to hear ye, an out there on the air, all over the country, thousands of frens you aint met are waitin to hear ye, too, so step right up here with that old sushaw fiddle an show em what you got.”

–from the Berea College Special Collections, Hutchins Library

Published by Marianne Worthington

Marianne Worthington is a poet, editor, and co-founder of Still: The Journal, an online literary magazine publishing writers, artists, and musicians with ties to the Appalachian region since 2009. She received the Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council and the Appalachian Book of the Year Award for her poetry chapbook, Larger Bodies Than Mine. She was awarded grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Appalachian Sound Archives Fellowship at Berea College. She co-edited, with Silas House, Piano in a Sycamore: Writing Lessons from the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop, a writing craft anthology from teachers at the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop from the last 40 years. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Oxford American, CALYX, Grist, Shenandoah, The Louisville Review, Appalachian Review, Cheap Pop, and Chapter 16, among other places. She lives in Williamsburg, Kentucky, and teaches communication studies, media writing, and journalism at University of the Cumberlands. Her poetry collection, The Girl Singer, is available from University Press of Kentucky, 2021.

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