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Homegrown Plus: Stepping Back in Time with Connie Regan-Blake and Barbara Freeman

Two women stand side-by-side. Each has her right hand raised.

Connie Regan-Blake and Barbara Freeman perform a tandem tale in the Library of Congress’s Mumford Room on September 6, 2018.

In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here!)

We’re continuing the series with Connie Regan-Blake and Barbara Freeman’s very special storytelling event, Stepping Back in Time, which we presented on September 6, 2018. The title alludes to the fact that the duo had a long history of performing together, but that at the time of their presentation here they had not done so for years. In the 1970s, Regan-Blake and Freeman, who are cousins, were both working at the Chattanooga Public Library, Barbara as Children’s Librarian and Connie as a full-time storyteller for a special outreach program called MORE. In 1973 they attended the first National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. There they met Ray and Rosa Hicks of Beech Mountain, North Carolina, who became lasting friends and mentors. They realized they had a special gift for telling stories, and left their careers at the library to perform nationally and internationally as The Folktellers. Regan-Blake and Freeman pioneered “tandem telling,” a type of duet storytelling performance, and were on the founding Board of Directors for NAPPS, the National Association for the Preservation and the Perpetuation of Storytelling (now the National Storytelling Network). In 1985, The Folktellers moved to Asheville, North Carolina and began working on a play titled Mountain Sweet Talk. This two-act, fully staged play starred Regan-Blake and Freeman, incorporating original material and stories of The Folktellers. The show ran for seven seasons (1986-1992) with over 300 performances. The Folktellers also toured across the country, performing at folk festivals, including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington D.C. Regan-Blake and Freeman eventually moved on to solo careers, and both are internationally recognized storytellers. Connie Regan-Blake’s collection of recordings, photographs, correspondence, and memorabilia, which documents both her storytelling career and the larger storytelling scene from the 1970s to the present day, is part of the archive of the American Folklife Center. In this special evening program, the two cousins and performing partners stepped back in time to perform together once again.

In the first player, watch the concert.  Then scroll down for the oral histories!

Connie Regan-Blake tells a story in the Library of Congress's Mumford Room on September 6, 2018.

Connie Regan-Blake tells a story in the Library of Congress’s Mumford Room on September 6, 2018.

Both Connie Regan-Blake and Barbara Freeman were interviewed by me and Valda Morris, AFC archivist and curator of the International Storytelling Collection.We took the opportunity to record separate oral history interviews with each of the storytellers, which gave a fascinating glimpse of their individual impressions of their joint career. In the first player, watch Connie Regan-Blake talk about her life and career as a storyteller.

Barbara Freeman points at the audience while telling a story in the Library of Congress's Mumford Room on September 6, 2018.

Barbara Freeman points at the audience while telling a story in the Library of Congress’s Mumford Room on September 6, 2018.

In her interview, Barbara Freeman talked about her own storytelling career, including the interesting role her Christian faith had in shaping and changing the direction of her storytelling. See that video in the player below.

You can find all three of these videos with more bibliographic information on the Library of Congress website, with the concert here at this link, the oral history with Connie Regan-Blake at this link, and the oral history with Barbara Freeman at this link.

Visit our previous blog post “Connie Regan-Blake Tells ‘Mr. Fox’ for Halloween” to hear Connie’s version of a spooky classic!

Read more about Connie Regan-Blake at her website.

Read more about Barbara Freeman at her website.

The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress.  For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.

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