Appalachian Music Fellowship 3

Berea College Appalachian Music Fellowship

Day 3, June 3, 2009

Today I’ve read interviews with Lily May Ledford, the other Coon Creek Girls, and other friends, and family members of Lily May. Ledford’s daughter, Barbara, gave an interview in 1996 and spoke candidly about the control that Ledford’s manager (John Lair) and husbands exerted over her. According to the daughter, Ledford hated this control and manipulation but would not confront them or stand up for herself.

Ledford’s daughter says: “He (John Lair) probably wanted them (The Coon Creek Girls) to be perceived as unique, you know, the first women string band, but yet, he did not want them to be perceived as feminists, or someone who would upset the apple cart in their community. . . . he did not want, like on a religious level or a social level, for them to be perceived as people who would go over the line. . . . He wanted them to be spunky on stage, but he didn’t want them to be feminists on stage. And so he controlled that very closely. The kinds of things they said on stage—he didn’t want them to say much. He just wanted them to play. And the things that they said on stage were usually led by men. You know, men were the emcees.”

Yet, Lily May speaks of being an independent woman, on the road with other women as the Coon Creek Girls. (This is from a 1976 interview in SingOut! magazine):

“Playing shows on down in Georgia and the Carolinas and Alabama, you were insulted by the audience. They were mostly men, there were seldom any women, at the shows. They’d be drinkin’, and they’d make fun of our calico dresses and high-top shoes, and on one or two occasions we’d have to fight them. They’d come back in the alley where we’d be loading the car, and a few of these—we call ‘em hoods, now, my kid does—they’d follow us back there, and stand off and make fun and say insulting things and make cracks about us to one another and laugh.
“We’d have these high-top shoes strung around our necks—we didn’t pack ‘em, we just threw them in the car. And we attacked them! Me and my sisters, did we beat the devil out of ‘em with our shoes! And did it surprise them! They had no idea! We had a couple fights like that and they backed off and left.”

I’m starting to get a much more complete notion of Lily May’s inner life. Tomorrow I’m going to do some listening of 1930s Coon Creek Girls recordings.

–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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: