This week, I had the distinct honor and pleasure of highlighting the American Folklife Center’s Ozark Mountain collections, especially those from the state of Missouri, in a lecture and audio-visual presentation in the Library’s Whittall Pavilion. It was a great opportunity to share our collections with an audience of interested folks who all have firsthand experience of Ozark culture.
Many even had personal connections to our collections. One audience member had sat in church throughout his childhood next to folksong collector Max Hunter, whose collection I talked about at length. I even had a clip of Hunter singing a song himself! Another audience member sings in a quartet with the son of Bill Bilyeu, a fiddler I showed onscreen and played for the audience.
The occasion for my talk was the visit of a group of alumni from Missouri State University, including U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, who earned his Master’s degree there. After my talk, which highlighted five AFC collections that contain Ozark or Missouri materials, the Senator gave an impromptu speech about the history and development of Ozark folklore.
Senator Blunt’s connections to the region’s history and folklore are deep. After graduating from Missouri State in 1972, he was a history teacher in Greene County for many years before embarking on his full-time political career. He has even worked with AFC in the past: in the spring of 2000, Senator Blunt (then a Representative from Missouri’s 7th district) recommended the Max Hunter Collection for inclusion in AFC’s Local Legacies project. We were happy to list this important collection of Ozark folksongs, especially since we were already helping to preserve it; we received tape copies of it through a duplication project in the 1970s. The original collection remained in the public library of Springfield-Greene County, Missouri, but it has since been digitized and placed online at this link, by none other than Missouri State University!
My talk highlighted four collections that contain Ozark materials, and one from elsewhere in Missouri. The Ozark collections were the following:
The Vance Randolph Collection, consisting of photographs, manuscripts, and sound recordings assembled by the great folklorist Vance Randolph.
The Resettlement Administration Recordings Collection, which features recordings made by Sidney Robertson Cowell in the Ozarks and elsewhere in Missouri, as well as recordings Cowell made in Chicago of the Ozark folksinger Cinderella Kinnaird, who came from Willow Springs, Missouri.
The Max Hunter Duplication Project (technically three AFC collections), consisting of sound recordings made by traveling salesman Max Hunter, of Springfield, Missouri.
The Alan Lomax collection, which features photos and sound recordings made in the Arkansas Ozarks in 1959.
You can listen to the entirety of the Max Hunter collection at the link above. You can hear Lomax’s 1959 Ozark recordings, including Almeda Riddle and Neal Morris (Jimmy Driftwood’s father), at this link, the Association for Cultural Equity site.
As for Randolph and Cowell’s collections, here’s a taste of those materials.
First of all, here’s a great photo of Vance Randolph, by an unknown photographer, which he included in the collection:
Randolph sometimes recorded himself singing songs he had learned before he had a recording machine. At this link, hear Vance Randolph sing “Starving to Death on a Government Claim.”
Vance Randolph also made wonderful recordings and photos of Emma Dusenbury of Mena, Arkansas. Here’s one of our favorite photos:
Vance Randolph, who saw himself as a creator of printed collections and other books, took many photos of singers he never recorded. Sidney Robertson Cowell, who was first and foremost a musicologist, recorded many singers she did not photograph. However, in some cases they were the same people, and we can match up Randolph’s photos to Cowell’s recordings. For example, here’s one of Randolph’s photos of Mr. and Mrs. Ray R. Denoon of Springfield, Missouri:
As a bonus, let’s hear Ray R. Denoon’s son, recorded by Vance Randolph as Jimmy Denoon. The younger Denoon went on to be a professional singer and multi-instrumentalist in country music, especially Western Swing, under the name “Big Jim Denoon.” Follow this link to hear Randolph’s recording of Jimmy’s version of “Root, Hog, or Die.”
These recordings and photos don’t begin to exhaust even these collections, and AFC has other rich collections relating to the state of Missouri and the Ozark region. Read our finding aid to Missouri Collections at this link. And please keep following our blog for more selected materials from AFC collections.