Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Voice-O-Graph Discovery & Mystery!

Earlier this summer, Timi's Uncle Tim told her that their cousin Robin had discovered a new Reedy treasure. She found a small record among her grandmother Beulah's belongings, and she gave it to Tim to pass along to Timi because she was aware of our project. Beulah was John Reedy's sister and was never part of their band, but several of her descendants are members of a contemporary family gospel group known as The Van Nordstroms.

The record is unlike any other in the Reedy collection. It is smaller than a 45 and has a small spindle hole in the middle. It is labeled from John to "All The Family", and its date is "Aug. 10, 19..." but the actual year is difficult to discern. It looks like "1920", but this would have been before John was born.



This new discovery is intriguing for several reasons. According to Collectors Quest, a collectors website, it was produced in a Voice-O-Graph recording booth, which resembles a phone booth, where one could deposit money and speak into the receiver to record a one-of-a-kind audio recording.

Image from http://www.pinrepair.com/arcade/voice.htm
The website also indicates that the Voice-O-Graph machines were made around the late 1950s and 1960s, so this would likely place John's recording around the same time period that he and Frances were living part-time in Ohio. So he could have recorded a message "To All the Family" back home in Kentucky. 

As noted by the collector/blogger Collin David on this site, "Audio cassettes wouldn’t really become popular until the late 1970s, so in an era where recording equipment was not as readily available as it is today, these were surely thrilling machines. The idea [of] recording oneself for perpetuity and aural immortality is one that appeals to us all. Of course, these records could only be etched once, so the sounds stored on them were completely unique and existed solely on that singular recording."

Image from http://www.pinrepair.com/arcade/voice.htm
As we know from their extensive reel-to-reel home recordings (and later cassette recordings), John and Frances consciously documented themselves and their family members, and it seems like the Voice-O-Graph experience could have inspired them to acquire their reel-to-reel recorder before such technology became commonplace and inexpensive.

Of course, the most intriguing part of this discovery is finding out what is on the Voice-O-Graph record! We have contacted Harry Rice to inform him of this new-found recording and our interest in donating it to the Berea College Sound Archives as part of the Reedy collection of commercial and home recordings that we donated and processed as part of our Appalachian Sound Archives Fellowship in 2009. We hope that it is in good enough condition to digitize its contents and thus solve the mystery of what John sent to "All The Family" and when.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Re-Reedy at ASA: Appalachian Music, Migration, & Memory Revisited


We had a whirlwind trip to Indiana, Pennsylvania, which is about an hour northeast of Pittsburgh and the farthest north the Appalachian Studies conference has ever been.  We enjoyed traveling with our ever-trusty and always fun travel companion Banjo Deborah, though we were all a little stressed out by the long trip, and neither Timi or I were feeling well that weekend.

Our multi-media presentation, "Re-Reedy: Appalachian Music, Migration, and Memory," which built on our 2010 ASA presentation, focused on (1) the findings from our Family Research Fellowship at the Kentucky Historical Society about Frances and John Reedy's early career in Harlan, Kentucky; (2) the commercial and home recordings they produced in Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio during their migration cycles; and (3) video footage of Harold Reedy and his memories of his parents' music and migration.

We experienced some frustrating technical difficulties at the beginning of the presentation, but a helpful volunteer was able to get the system to cooperate finally.  Fortunately, we had a full hour for our presentation, otherwise the technical challenges would have consumed the time allotted for a typical paper presentation.  Our audience was small (about eight people), but they were all very patient and highly knowledgeable about the Reedys' musical era and migration area.  So we had a great discussion with these folks that extended well into the lunch hour!

We used the documentary blog for presenting our fellowship research on the Reedys' early performances in Harlan, and we also played Frances' version of "Oh Death," which she and John custom recorded as a 45 rpm record when they were living in Dayton.  We concluded by sharing some of the footage we shot during Harold's visits when he was staying with us regularly.  It was difficult to talk about the shifting landscape of his memory, but it was good to share his remembrance and love of Frances and John's music as well as our story about caring for a loved one.

In honor of Harold's role in this ongoing project and process, we have posted a brief  footage segment from one of his visits to our home.  The soundtrack is the "Song Title Medley," improvised and sung by his father John Reedy and digitized from a reel-to-reel home recording circa the 1960's.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Appalachian Studies Conference Presentation March 2012

March 22-24, 2012


 "Re-Reedy: Appalachian Music, Migration & Memory Revisited"
Multi-Media Presentation by Tammy Clemons & Timi Reedy
  (Saturday, March 24, 11:00 a.m.noon, Location TBA)

Timi and I have proposed and been accepted for another multi-media presentation at the next Appalachian Studies Association (ASA) Conference in the northern reaches of the Appalachian region at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP).  This session will build on our 2010 ASA presentation on the Reedys and will focus on (1) recent findings from the Kentucky Historical Society about their early career in Harlan, Kentucky; (2) the commercial and home recordings produced in Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio during their migration cycles; and (3) video footage of the Reedys’ sons, Harold and Tim, and their memories of their parents music and migration.  We are looking forward to sharing some new material from our documentary-in-progress about the musical careers and family histories of Frances and John Reedy.  

It will also be exciting to interact with other Appalachian scholars at the ASA conference again.  Timi has now attended for the past two years, and I have attended the conference the past five years in a row (and have presented five times, though not every year).  This year, I am grateful to receive support from the University of Kentucky Appalachian Center to attend.  Since I began my doctoral program in cultural anthropology this fall, I have been attending some events and interacting with various folks there as much as I can.  In fact, one of my co-advisors, Dr. Ann Kingsolver, is the new director of the center and the Appalachian Studies program, and we both recently "published" pieces in the Appalachia issue of anthropologies: An Online Collaborative Project that "seeks to highlight not only what anthropology means to those who practice it, but also how those meanings are relevant to wider audiences."

My new academic endeavor and my simultaneous return to a full-time position at Berea College have definitely impacted my productivity on this documentary, but I hope to find ways to integrate this project into my long-term dissertation research as well.  Dr. Kingsolver has encouraged me to think more broadly about my overall interest in documentation, identity, and social change, so it will be interesting to see what unfolds as I embark on my investigation on feminist media activism in Appalachia and continue to gather and present information on the Reedys' music and family.

That said, Timi and I now have a couple of exciting new opportunities to expand our vision and public reach on this and other topics.  I do not want to say too much just yet, but I can say that one of these will be a proposal for the upcoming Appalachian Research Symposium and Arts Showcase organized by the Graduate Appalachian Research Community at UK. There may also be another UK involved at some point, but that will have to remain a mystery for now...

Meanwhile, we are looking forward to attending and presenting at another ASA conference.  This year's theme is "The Wide Reach of Appalachia," and the featured keynote speaker and performer will be Si Kahn.  If you are interested in participating, they offer registration scholarships for folks who could not afford to attend otherwise.  (Timi and I were awarded scholarships to attend the past two years when I was unemployed.)  Scholarship information as well as a preliminary program with tentative session schedules should be posted on the ASA website in the coming months, so stay tuned for more on the ASA at IUP...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Reedy's Records Now Open!

As we've discovered, sorted, digitized, and archived the vast volume of Reedy recordings, we continue to encounter duplicate copies of some items.  We are slowly getting organized, and are happy to announce that we now have some surplus Reedy 45's for sale on eBay!

You can check out our current selection on the new "Shop Reedy's Records" page, also in the list of blog pages in the left-hand menu.  We're new to this form of vending, but we hope this will prove a beneficial means of sharing Frances and John's musical talents and their commercial recordings on the original medium that they were produced!  

We have a modest selection to offer so far, but we anticipate new additions in the near future.  There are currently two 45's on the Viola Records (Lundy Music) label: VR-118 "Summer is Gone" / "That's the Man I'm Looking For" and VR-225 "Cherokee Lady" / "Tennessee Duels".

Frances and John recorded several 45's, an LP, and an 8-track at Lundy Recording Studio, founded and owned by David Lundy.  (A full list of Reedy recordings on the Lundy label is available on our master discography.)  Check out our oral history interview with David Lundy, meet his wife Viola, and take a tour of the studio in Barbourville, Kentucky.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Reedy Collection Finding Aid & Historical Narrative

Overview of the Collection *

The Reedy collection consists of correspondence, news clippings, photographs, liner notes, miscellaneous memorabilia, sound recordings, and videos documenting the musical career of early Bluegrass musicians Frances and John Reedy of Harlan and Corbin, Kentucky and Dayton, Ohio.  This collection was donated to the Berea College Special Collections and Archives by Timi Reedy, Frances and John Reedy's granddaughter, as part of an Appalachian Sound Archives Fellowship in Fall 2009

John Reedy is perhaps best known as the composer of the gospel song “Somebody Touched Me,” which he wrote in 1939.  A response to a reader’s letter in the August 2004 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited, notes that “John Reedy is an artist whose name appears on a number of song credits, but about whom little has been written. We know he and his wife Frances were from Harlan County, Ky.  …We have  virtually no information on Frances Reedy, but her vocal work on ‘Oh Death’ reveals her to be an excellent old-time singer, with a delivery reminiscent of the singing of Julia Mainer.”  The few published items sometimes contain incorrect and conflicting information, such as in the “Early Days of Bluegrass” liner notes that erroneously refer to the Reedys as “Starting out as a sister/brother group.” 

John William Reedy was born in Tennessee on December 9, 1918.


His parents were Elizabeth Honeycutt and Harrison Reedy, who was a law-man in Harlan County where he grew up.



Frances Williebob Ridner was born in Bell County, Kentucky on December, 31, 1922.


Her parents were Maude Miller and Bob Ridner...

...but she was raised by her paternal grandparents Nancy Ann Mullins and Andrew Jackson Ridner in Harlan as well.

According to an oral history with Frances, she learned to play guitar around the age five or six by watching her uncle play and practicing what she learned afterward when her grandmother took his guitar off the wall and let her play.  She recalled learning songs and playing along with Bradley Kincaid on the radio. Because she didn't have her own guitar, she said she didn't really start playing again until around the age of 12 or 13 when she traded her hand-crank Victrola and all her records to a boy for a Regal guitar. 

John and Frances married on November 22, 1936 when Frances was 13 and John was 17 but they apparently lied about their ages on the marriage license.  Frances gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Joyce Ann in 1938 when she was 15, but the child died from leukemia at the age of fourteen months.  Frances and John’s older son (and Timi’s father) Harold William Reedy was born on August 25, 1940, and their younger son Charles Timothy (Tim) Reedy was born on January 17, 1945.  Sadly, a set of male twins were stillborn between the birth of their surviving sons.
 

In Frances’ musical oral history interview, she recalled the beginning of her and John’s musical career when they first got married.  John played harmonica, and Frances taught John's sister Marie and his brother Roger how to play guitar.  They formed a family band known as John Reedy and the Stone Mountain Hillbillies and first played at twice-monthly "songfests" in Harlan County organized by Uncle Joe Shoemaker, where they also played with Julian and Glen Rainey who played the banjo and mandolin respectively.

 
During the 1940’s and 50’s, the Reedys had a daily radio program sponsored by Fuller Furniture on WHLN in Harlan on and off for 17½ years.  According to Frances, Jay Barlow was the DJ, and sometimes the studio was so crowded with audience members from the community that they had to record the show outside in the parking lot.

The Reedys played on several other radio stations in the region, including WBVL (Barbourville), the short-lived WCPM (Cumberland), WCTW (Whitesburg), WJHL (Johnson City, TN), and WNOX (Knoxville, TN).  Frances also recounted playing at a number of other diverse outlets throughout the region, including schoolhouses (sometimes traveling in a wagon), churches, the Wise County Fair (Wise, VA), and local theatres. 

According to family documents, the Reedys would most likely have first played at Renfro Valley between the early 1940's and early 1950's (prior to their temporary migration to Dayton, Ohio). In her oral history, and Frances' recalled playing there on the weekends when the original Coon Creek Girls, Red Foley, Slim Miller and Molly O’Day and her husband Lynn Davis performed there in the early 1940’s.  While Special Collections holds extensive relevant business correspondence, publicity, and radio program transcripts from Renfro Valley, there are only a couple clues and no direct documentation of their presence there, even in the occasional references to guest musicians or “extras” in addition to the regular cast of Renfro Valley stars. 

John Lair's business correspondence does allude to some of the Renfro Valley “units” of performers who traveled to various venues such as schools, civic clubs, and communities in the region.  This could possibly correlate to Frances' recollections of the different places they played because her memorabilia includes an old ticket stub of a “Hill-Billy Show,” and a Renfro Valley booking agent uses this same phrase in a 1943 letter to responding to an inquiry about bringing performers to their community.

Throughout their regional travels and gigs, the Reedys met and/or played with many well-known country, gospel, and Bluegrass musicians.  Frances recalled opening for Earnest Tubb at the Harlan Theatre as well as playing various times with Coon Hunter, Bill Monroe, Lost John and the Allied Kentuckians, Kitty Wells, and Johnny Wright.  They played also played with Carl Story and the Ramblin’ Mountaineers somewhat regularly at the Wise County Fair.  Frances also remembered getting to meet Chet Atkins, Don Gibson, and Dolly Parton while they were doing programming on WNOX. During World War II, John was briefly stationed at Camp Atterbury in Indiana as an Army cook in 1944.  Frances recalled that they played music in some of the theatres in Indianapolis while John was in service.


John wrote “Somebody Touched Me” in 1939, but it was first recorded in 1947 (or 1949) as a 78 rpm record on the Twin City label in Bristol, Tennessee.


As John’s most famous song, it is often erroneously credited as a traditional or to other composers.  The song has been re-released on compilations or re-recorded and covered by other artists more than 40 times since it was first recorded.  Commercial recordings include cover artists Roy Acuff, Boxcar Willie, Bill Monroe, Stanley Brothers, Carl Story, and even Solomon Burke and Bob Dylan.  While it remains John Reedy’s most famous song, both he and Frances were both talented songwriters, and they recorded mostly their original music throughout their musical careers.

Frances and John probably first moved to Dayton to work in the General Motors factory around 1953. The Reedy manuscript collection includes a weather-worn recommendation letter, dated April 2, 1953, from R.B. Helms, then President of Blanfox Radio Co., Inc.  The letterhead references membership stations of the “Good Coal Network” as WHLN (Harlan), WCPM (Cumberland), and WNVA (Norton, VA).  The letter is addressed simply “To Whom It May Concern,” so it most likely intended to help them secure music gigs when they moved north. 

Between the early 1950's and mid-1960's, the Reedys lived in Dayton during the workweek and commuted home to Kentucky every weekend; however; their migration during that period was also broken into alternating 5—6-month residencies in Ohio and Kentucky.  Thus, the Reedys never completely migrated away from their native home even while they worked in Dayton for more than a decade.  In the mid-1960’s, they permanently returned Kentucky to live in Corbin. 

When John and Frances Reedy moved to Dayton, they became part of both a much larger migrant Appalachian population in Ohio as well as a substantial transplanted group of Appalachian musicians who recorded on several independent record labels in Dayton and elsewhere.  During their temporary migration to Dayton, the Reedys recorded a prolific amount of material not only on commercial record labels but also on extensive homemade reel-to-reel recordings. In the early 1960's, they recorded one 45 on the Ark label (Cincinnati), three 45’s on the Jalyn label (Dayton), six multiple-track EP-45’s on the Starday label (Nashville), and custom-recorded four 45’s in Dayton. In 1962, Starday released a compilation LP entitled Tragic Songs of Death and Sorrow featuring Frances' vocals on “Oh Death.”
 

The Reedys self-recorded at least fifteen reels of material including musical performances, radio programs, sermons, and family gatherings.  Most of these are home recordings of jam sessions or what are probably multiple takes of songs that they were rehearsing prior to commercial recordings; however, some are dubs of their 45 recordings.  One tape included a recording of a radio “infomercial” advertising the release of the Starday Hall of Fame records and playing selected tracks, including “Oh, Death.”


Another reel is a 1961 recording of a family Christmas gathering in 1961, on which John interviews his family members who are visiting them in Dayton.  The reel-to-reel recordings also include at least one original song that was not commercially recorded (i.e., “Parking Meter Blues”) as well as a John singing an unusual medley combining song titles from their repertoire.  Later home recordings include a couple of cassette tapes of live material, but most cassettes in the collection are back-up dubs of previous reel-to-reel recordings.

Frances and John briefly divorced and remarried in 1963-64.

During their estrangement, she lived temporarily with her daughter-in-law in Dayton.  Years later, a newspaper article in the Corbin Times-Tribune was published about Frances and John when their song "Somebody Touched Me" was included on the Rounder Records compilation LP The Early Days of Bluegrass, Vol. 1 in 1975.
 

When they discuss the songwriting process and other songs they had written, such as Frances' song "Tiny Bitty Pieces."  She attributes the origin of this catchy country tune of lost love and trust to the demise of "a couple of friends," but it was in fact written to and for John.  Similarly, John wrote "Knocking on Your Door" to Frances as a result of their brief separation.

Shortly after reuniting, the Reedy family returned to Kentucky to live in Corbin, where their older son also settled with his children.  Timi Reedy grew up in Harlan and Corbin, and as a child, she spent a great amount of time with her grandparents.  She remembers traveling with them during mid-1960's and mid- to late-1970's as they toured the region and performed at regional churches and community gatherings as well as Renfro Valley and the Grand Ole Opry.


In 1973, Frances and John recorded a 45 of the traditional tune “Little Sparrow” and Frances’ song, “Tiny Bitty Pieces” on the Jewel label Cincinnati, Ohio.  A year later, John Reedy and the Stone Mountain Hillbillies were documented as founding Bluegrass musicians on the album “The Early Days of Bluegrass, Vol. 1” produced by Rounder Records in 1974.  The album included the original recording of “Somebody Touched Me” and was later cataloged in the Library of Congress.

 

Frances and John recorded three 45’s on the Viola label at the Lundy Recording Studio in Barbourville, Kentucky: Summer's Gone / That’s the Man I’m Looking For (1976), Moonlight and Music / Grandad’s Fiddle (1977), and Cherokee Lady / Tennessee Duals (1978).  They also recorded the LP Hymns from the Hills of Harlan County Kentucky on the Lundy label on July 15, 1977, and sometime in the late 1970's or early 80's, they released an 8-track called On My Way to Heaven in collaboration with Barbourville-based Bluegrass band the Brush Creek Grass. 

Throughout the Reedys’ musical career, they both also worked various jobs to support their family and save money for their own place.  In Harlan during the late '30's and early '40's, John worked briefly as a cab driver, coal-miner, and truck driver.  Frances was a retail saleswoman in a department store.  While living in Dayton, they both worked at the Inland division of GM.  When they finally settled in Corbin, Frances served as the primary cook and manager for Reedy’s Pizza, which was owned by her sons Harold and Tim, and she later worked as a grocery clerk at a local market.  John volunteered for various community projects in Corbin, including lobbying for paving the gravel road in their neighborhood and helping start the first ambulance service in the area. 

On Christmas in 1980, Frances and John's older son Harold captured their last recorded musical performance together with a VHS camcorder.  John had several health problems, and a few short years later, he passed away at his home in Corbin on January 30, 1983.




Frances played the guitar less and less after her husband died, but she would still occasionally sing a traditional ballad or other songs in her repertoire upon request by family members.

In 1996, Timi helped interview her grandmother at her home in Corbin for two oral history videos collected and preserved by Appalachia—Science in the Public Interest (ASPI): one was on the condition of the forest in Eastern Kentucky while she was growing up, and the other focused on her musical background and career.  Frances' music history narrative is truncated and ends before the Reedys even migrated to Dayton; however, the interview includes Frances performing a couple of traditional tunes that Timi loved from her childhood, which was a rare occurrence during the latter part of her life as well as her last recorded performance.


After struggling for several years with multiple health problems, Frances Reedy passed away in Corbin on April 6, 2006 at the age of 83.


The Sound Archives collection includes the original commercial recordings by the Reedys, including their first 78 rpm recording of “Somebody Touched Me,” fourteen of eighteen known 45 rpm records, the Tragic Songs of Death and Sorrow LP, Hymns from the Hills of Harlan County LP, Early Days of Bluegrass, Vol. 1 LP, and On My Way to Heaven 8-track. Homemade recordings include 15 reel-to-reel tapes, more than 20 cassette tapes, a DVD copy of the original VHS Christmas home video, and VHS and audio cassettes from both 1996 oral history interviews with Frances.  All of these original materials have also been digitized. 

The Reedy collection includes almost 100 original family photos, about 40 original musician photos (of the Reedys as well as other musicians, including an autographed photo of Bill Monroe), as well as other important archival material such as newspaper clippings, liner notes, and a radio station brochure, correspondence, post-marked envelopes, school records, and obituaries.  There are also more than 400 digital images, including over 200 family photos and more than 40 labels from commercial vinyl recordings. 

The Reedy manuscript collection and sound recordings reveal a sense of collaborative musicianship, a culture of family and camaraderie, and an astounding intentionality regarding the documentation and preservation of their own history and experience.
-----------------------------
* This historical narrative is a biographical summary of Frances and John Reedy's lives and music as well as a "finding aid" description of the Reedy manuscript and sound archives collections that we donated to Berea College Special Collections as part of our Appalachian Sound Archives Fellowship.

Friday, May 27, 2011

In Docu-Memory: John, Frances, and Harold Reedy

There are so many interrelated and complex facets to the process of recognizing and documenting the lives and music of Frances and John Reedy.  Since its humble beginning over a year-and-a-half ago, our vision and its multitudinous components have become so much more intricate, intriguing, and interwoven than we first anticipated.  There are many logistical pieces of the project that embody several forms of media, include multiple outlets for dissemination to various audiences, and ultimately transcend any narrow notion of genre. 

But beyond the practical development of what we originally conceived when we began, there is an important process of reflection on a very personal subject from within as well as from an expanded academic and investigative perspective.  Even the significance of something so seemingly commonplace and clichéd as “memory” was not quite apparent when we created the working title “Remembering the Reedys: Appalachian Music, Migration and Memory.” 

A while back, I was trying to think of an adequate terminology to describe the project in a more specific way than just “documentary.”  While it will someday be an edited video documentary, it meanwhile also comprises individual oral history videos, raw audio files, digital photos, and ongoing written summaries and commentary through the project blog, all of which are whole unto themselves.  My mind kept returning to the concept of “docu-memory” because we are archiving, creating, and organizing so many forms of documentation that explore the memories and music of Frances and John Reedy.

I later suspected and confirmed that the term “documemory” also refers to a video production and marketing niche that specializes in creating family history DVD photo slideshows with musical soundtracks.  For our purposes, I include the hyphen in “docu-memory” to distinguish our project’s deeper exploration and documentation of various people’s memories and our long-term goal of quilting them together in a cohesive and colorful collection.  Yet the word’s relevance has now come full circle…

Most funeral homes now offer “documemory” type video memorials as a way to honor deceased loved ones and share memories of the past, and we are twice personally acquainted with this particular media genre.  We have a copy of such a memorial DVD of Frances Reedy from her funeral service in 2006.  But most recently we watched a video slideshow of Timi’s father Harold William Reedy I who passed away on March 20, 2010.  Timi, her younger brother, and her step-mother gathered photos together; and later she and her brother burned CD mixes of songs that Harold loved to listen to.  The result was a heartwarming and charming slideshow and soundtrack amidst the real loss and grief shared by the family and community who loved him.

Timi and I were fortunate to have a special experience of helping care-take for Harold for an extended period last year, so there is new layer of the Reedy docu-memory to unfold as we reflect on that time together.  Memory was both a unique gift and challenge for Harold for the last decade-and-a-half of his life because he suffered from severe short-term memory loss.  He was technically diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but his condition was precipitated by insufficient oxygen during a heart surgery when he was in his fifties. 

After her mamaw passed away and her dad became unable to drive, Timi began visiting with Harold in Corbin almost every week.  She would drive him around, listen to his favorite music, visit the lake, chew gum, and basically do all of the things that he still loved.  She even brought him to our house to visit occasionally.  He got to where he would remember their weekly outings and look forward to her arrival and an adventure together.  This new ritual also allowed Timi and Harold to share memories and emotions during his more lucid moments that were very healing and personal.

Then last February, Harold’s health declined significantly when his medications had been adjusted.  He was ridden to a wheel-chair and communicated less coherently than usual.  At that time, Timi’s step-mother was still working full-time and trying to manage his in-home care.  So we kept him at our house for almost a full week to help share the load and then weekly for 2-3 days a week until August.  Doctors adjusted his medication again, and there was significant improvement as he regained energy, strength, and awareness of his surroundings.

Whenever Harold was at our house, he was almost constantly commenting on how much he enjoyed being here.  He became more engaged and communicative, and he expressed the importance of his family’s history and music in interesting ways.  Over the course of Timi and Harold’s weekly visits, we randomly recorded video footage of some of our time spent with him.  Most of the footage was taken during times when he seemed to be particularly social and/or reminiscent.  Some of it was recorded during more sedate circumstances that still convey his deep comfort and relaxation.

Throughout our time with Harold, he regularly strove to express his memories of his parents and their music, his continued enjoyment and need for music in general, and his love of nature.  All of these themes are well-represented in the video footage we gathered across a year-long timespan.*  The fact that most of his short-term memory was eclipsed by his intensely vivid memories of the past meant that sometimes his parents were still alive to him.  He also frequently associated our land with farms in Harlan and Knox Counties where they had lived when he and his brother were kids.  Despite varying levels of functionality, Harold’s ability to express complex emotions and memories was astounding if one patient and simply paid attention.

When Timi’s step-mother retired, we took a hiatus from bringing Harold up to our house.  Timi struggled to get to Corbin to see him as often because we had several simultaneous transportation snafus, but she still managed to visit him a few times before and after the blizzardous winter that further complicated travel.  His spirit seemed to improve with consistent full-time care at home, but at the same time, his overall physical health and ability to communicate clearly continued to decline.

A week before Harold passed away, Timi and I attended the 2011 Appalachian Studies Association (ASA) conference, which was held at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) in neighboring Richmond.  This was Timi’s second year and my fifth year in a row, and we both received another scholarship for conference registration.  We only got to attend sessions on Friday because we were involved in planning a special meeting on Saturday, but the very first session we attended was intriguingly entitled, “Performing Autoethnography: Radical Methodology, Radical Pedagogy.” 

Of course this session title appealed to me as a writer, artist, educator, and activist.  The presenters, Donna Corriher and Shannon Perry, prepared a thoughtful applied exercise and supplied a useful resource pamphlet with a selected bibliography.  In their abstract, they define autoethnography as “a radical, interdisciplinary fusion of autobiographical and ethnographic writing that uses personal experience as a basis for understanding cultural patterns and phenomena.”  Later they go on to state that it “challeng[es] the existence of the disembodied, disinterested researcher and advocat[es] for ways of knowing that encompass the emotional and experiential in pursuit of a more true history.”

We both resonated immensely with the presentation content, format, and audience that it seemed a natural nomenclature for so much of the work that we do.  Beyond its personal relevance to my academic history and future, autoethnography seemed to capture the multiple aspects of our docu-memory project and the legacy of conscious self-documentation among the Reedy family.  This continuous creation and collection of audio and video recordings originated with Frances and John’s first commercial recording in the late 1940’s through their custom and audio home- recordings from the 1960’s—70’s; Harold’s home video of Frances and John performing on Christmas 1980; Timi’s oral history documentation of her grandmother in 1996; and now our ongoing gathering of existing media and own documentation of Harold, our project, and their intricate relationship.

Timi has her own memories of her grandparents and her dad, and we have shared memories of her Mamaw and now Harold.  Timi has also had her own migration experiences, spending summers with her mom in Dayton or Harlan, going to school in Richmond, and temporarily moving back to Corbin to live with Frances when John died.  Music is also fundamental to our quality of life, and we seek its pleasures and its wisdom whenever and however it’s available.  While we aren’t formal musicians ourselves, we are deeply committed to illuminating and sustaining the Reedys’ musical history and influence.

We had such a gift in spending substantial time with Harold while he was still able to enjoy life and express his joy with his family.  His memory and his memories are now truly integrated into the fabric of the overall documentary-in-progress and the process of “Remembering the Reedys.”  In docu-memory, we fondly pay homage to Harold in the house.  We miss you, buddy.

Harold William Reedy I (August 25, 1940--March 20, 2011)
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* Actual video footage will be uploaded and posted in the near future.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Music in Harlan County: Reedys & WHLN History

During the first few days of our Family Research Fellowship at the Kentucky Historical Society last fall, I stumbled upon an obscure online reference to John Reedy and the Stone Mountain Hillbillies in a Summer 1979 issue of a folk music journal published by the John Edwards Memorial Foundation called the JEMF Quarterly (Vol. XV, No. 54).  

This was an exciting discovery until I realized that the GoogleBooks version of the publication only displays a sliver of an excerpt, much less an entire page of text.


Luckily I found hard copies of the JEMF Quarterly in the Berea College Special Collections (784.4 J65q) and was able to get photocopies of the complete article that referenced Frances and John!  

According to the front inside cover of the JEMF Quarterly, "The purpose of the JEMF is to further the serious study and public recognition of those forms of American folk music disseminated by commercial media such as print, sound recordings, films, radio and television. These forms include the music referred to as cowboy, western, country & western, old time, hillbilly, bluegrass, mountain, country, cajun, sacred, gospel, race, blues, rhythm and blues, soul, and folk rock."  So it is not surprising that Frances and John and their particular contribution to an era of Appalachian music was included in an article called "Music in Harlan County: Reminiscences of a Long Time Resident Part II" by Edward Ward with Robert Coltman (pp. 72-79).

Table of Contents (Back Cover), JEMF Quarterly, Summer 1979, Vol. XV, No. 54

What was especially wonderful about this article is that there were several sections devoted to different artists and music scenes in Harlan County.  While Frances and John were not included in a separate section of their own, they are featured as a main group the "WHLN Harlan" section about the history of the community's first radio station.

p. 75, JEMF Quarterly, Summer 1979, Vol. XV, No. 54

After the brief summary of WHLN's origins, the authors go on to talk about its first manager and the early live-music opportunities and efforts that resulted from the new radio station.

"Having a radio station so near at hand of course drew would-be musicians like molasses draws flies, and for several weeks after WHLN opened there were many country star hopefuls doing their thing with fiddle, guitar or banjo, or some other instrument. Soon the worst of these were weeded out, and then there were some very good entertainers performing on WHLN. Only a few of these went on to make any records" (p. 75).  

These comments are both humorous and hopeful in light of the WHLN newspaper ads for amateur music nights that we found at the Kentucky Historical Society.  Frances and John Reedy clearly made the cut and went well beyond amateur status in their 17½-year run as a regular WHLN  program, and the authors acknowledge them for their talent and level of local fame.
p. 76, JEMF Quarterly, Summer 1979, Vol. XV, No. 54
"Perhaps the most prominent and best-liked group was John Reedy and the Stone Mountain Hillbillies.  The group consisted of John Reedy, his brother Roger, his sister Marie and his wife Frances. They made several personal appearances throughout the area at local school socials, etc. and went on to cut a few 78 rpm records. One of their popular numbers, which they wrote and which has been recorded by other artists, was “Somebody Touched Me”  ...  I’m not sure how many 78s the Hillbillies cut, but they were sold through the music stores" (p. 76).  This article correctly states the familial relationships of the band members, and the author's lack of awareness about the Reedy's numerous commercial recordings is understandable because most of these were produced outside of Kentucky in Cincinnati, Dayton, or Nashville.

Ward and Coltman mention several other artists that were part of WHLN and early Harlan County radio music programming, some of whom Frances mentioned in her oral history interview.  It would also be interesting to find the JEMF Quarterly issue with Part I of their "Music in Harlan County" reminiscences.  Meanwhile, they close the section on WHLN Harlan with an excellent homage to the music of that particular place and time.

"I think the coming of WHLN back in the early forties was one of the better things that have happened to our area. Of course the early music programs were the favorite programs of the people, and since these were all live from the studio broadcasts, this added a certain charm. Now live programs are a thing of the past, and only canned music goes out on the cool mountain air. But I love to let my memory return once more to the early forties, and it seems at times I can hear The Prairie Ranger, or The Stone Mountain Hillbillies, or Marion Brock, or Blind Jim Howard and the Farmer Boy making the wonderful old time music and singing those beautiful old ballads and hymns that only country music lovers can play and sing" (p. 76).

Ed Ward as a co-author of this article is significant because Berea College Special Collections also houses a collection of his folklore and music materials, to which we owe much appreciation for a previous Reedy-related treasure.  During our Appalachian Sound Archives Fellowship, we found a couple of cassette recordings of songs that we think were from one of the few records not included in Frances' almost otherwise complete record collection.  So we were able to get digital copies of these versions of "Oh Death" (Collection EW, Archive # 210-53 B 07, BC Sound Archives) and "A Prayer Is Worth More Than Silver or Gold" (Collection EW, Archive # 001-117 B 04, BC Sound Archives).

We have Ed Ward to thank more than once now for providing additional audio and historical context for the Harlan County music scene of which Frances and John Reedy were an important part.  Thanks again to Berea College Special Collections as well for the wealth of archival materials and information that we continue to discover in your welcoming world within Hutchins Library.