Proposed Research Project
“Remembering the Reedys: Appalachian Music, Migration, and Memory”
Research Focus and Use of Berea Archives
When John and Frances Reedy moved to Dayton to work in General Motors factory in the early 1950’s, they became part of both a much larger migrant Appalachian population in Ohio as well as a substantial transplanted Appalachian Rock-a-Billy music scene of honky-tonks and independent Bluegrass record labels in the Dayton area. They lived in Dayton during the workweek and commuted home to Kentucky every weekend until the mid-1960’s when they permanently returned to live in Corbin. John is perhaps best known for writing the song “Somebody Touched Me,” and John Reedy and the Stone Mountain Hillbillies were documented as founding Bluegrass musicians in the album “The Early Days of Bluegrass, Vol. 1” produced by Rounder Records for Smithsonian Folkways. According to the liner notes of their album “Hymns from the Hills of Harlan County,” “For 17½ years they played WHLN (Harlan, Ky), sponsored the entire time by Fuller’s Furniture…”
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.” It is clear from the lack of consistent information that there is need for updated, accurate documentation of their musical career. Also, most of the online bibliographic and database references narrowly focus on John and his most famous song, with only a mention of Frances as part of the band. This project proposal seeks not only to correct and expand existing documentation of the Reedys influence on bluegrass music but also to uplift Frances as John’s equal in musicianship, songwriting, and lead vocal talent. Elaborating on their story and sharing it more widely will also create new knowledge where there is a lack of substantial documentation of either musicians from Harlan or the musical influence of Appalachian culture and migration in Dayton.
The overall project involves three primary phases of research, documentation, and compilation that build upon one another:
Conducting new research on Frances and John Reedy (primarily) and their contemporaries (secondarily) in the Berea College Special Collections manuscript and audio archives;
Organizing, digitizing, and processing the donation of new materials (Timi’s current music and manuscript collection) for incorporation into Berea College Special Collections and Sound Archives for use by other researchers; and
Compiling a comprehensive inventory and finding aid of Reedy materials in Special Collections.
The basic components of research for this project would include: identifying and collecting additional news clippings, recordings, etc. about John and Frances Reedy and their contemporaries; following new leads for other references and resources; gathering information about the historical context in which the Reedy family existed as migrant Appalachian musicians and laborers; and transcription and digital conversion of older recording media in the collection.
The Fellowship and access to Special Collections and a research carrel would provide a support base for this comprehensive documentation project. They would serve as a unique opportunity for exploring additional potential recordings and other documentation of the Reedys’ musical career, including performances at Renfro Valley, the Grand Ole Opry, and WHLN in Harlan. The Archives would also provide contextual and historical information about other musicians who were from Harlan and/or the Reedys’ contemporaries in the musical migration.
Preliminary List of Promising Collections
John Lair Papers, 1930-1984, SAA 66
John Lair - Renfro Valley Barn Dance Oral History Collection 1994-1999, SAA 95
Jostes Sisters Renfro Valley Photographic Collection, SAA 88
Kevin Parks Early Country Music Collection, SAA 129
Leonard Roberts Papers, 1950-1983, SAA 57
Reuben Powell Early Country Music Collection 1910-1982, SAA 65
Renfro Valley Audio Collection
This project would make unique use of the Appalachian Music Fellowship and the Berea College Sound Archives not only by utilizing existing resources in a new way but also by contributing to and expanding the archival collection for access by other scholars. Timi and Tammy plan to work with the Special Collections Sound Archivist to donate and process various media of the Reedys’ music and other documentation of their musical career. They will also use the archives to do extensive supplemental research on the Reedy family in order to create a comprehensive sound and manuscript collection about their music.
The organization/archiving of existing music along with this supplemental research would serve as a foundation for a more long-term comprehensive documentary project in collaboration with contemporary “Rock-a-Billy” historians, collectors, and producers in the Dayton area. Another long-term goal is to digitally-re-master an anthology of the Reedys’ music for professional production and re-release to a new generation of musical connoisseurs.
Timeframe for Fellowship Residency and Research Timeline
The ideal timeline for implementation would entail a month to focus on each of the three main phases of information gathering and compilation with some degree of overlap in terms of how each of the phases would build upon one another. Therefore, the proposed timeframe for residency is three months from September 14—December 18, 2009.
Monday, September 14—Friday, October 2:
Begin research in pre-identified collections (looking for references to the Reedys, known peers/collaborators, and leads to other research sources)
Begin compiling list of actual collections and documentation available in Special Collections
Begin processing donated materials from Reedy collection (cleaning, sorting/identifying, cataloguing)
Begin list of audio materials for digitization and transcription
Monday, October 5—Friday, October 16:
Continue Special Collections research gathering images, clippings, and other documentation and ongoing list of successful sources
Begin digital conversion of audio recordings (existing and possible new finds) and video footage
Begin compiling and updating existing discographies of John and Frances Reedy (noting which are/will be available for access in Special Collections)
Monday, October 19—Friday, October 30:
Continue digital conversion and begin transcription of audio and video materials
Begin digitizing photos, letters, etc. (existing and new)
Monday, November 2—Friday, November 13:
Continue compiling itemized lists, notes, cross-references of new and existing primary sources
Monday, November 30—Friday, December 11:
Finalize ongoing inventory and finding aid of Reedy materials for Special Collections
Begin updating/correcting other known databases and documentation about the Reedys
Monday, December 14—Friday, December 18:
Finalize and Prepare for Final Public Presentation
While the three-month timeline of activity would be ideal, we recognize that the research timeline is dependent upon the actual time allotted should this proposal be accepted. Thus, the implementation of the three phases is flexible enough that the goals could be prioritized and condensed to accommodate a shorter timeframe if necessary. For example, new research could be limited to the stated collections in the proposal rather than following extensive new leads that might surface; or the comprehensive inventory of materials could be prioritized over the digitization of some materials.
Sharing Research Findings/Final Projects
Timi and Tammy have already made preliminary contact with several individuals who are academic and amateur Bluegrass researchers in and around Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio. Timi has had preliminary contact with independent collector/researcher Matt Baker, and this initial information-sharing would serve as the basis for further documenting the current movement of musical preservation and ongoing legacy of Appalachian, Bluegrass, and Rock-a-Billy traditions in Dayton. Tammy has also initiated contact with Tom Kopp, Fred Barenstein, and Mac McDivitt, who conduct research on Bluegrass music and oversee a non-profit organization and online database called Bgrass Inc., which “preserves and celebrates bluegrass music and its heritage in the Cincinnati/Dayton region.”
Several initial products will result from archiving the Reedy music collection and researching supplemental historical resources.
Donation of Reedy music collection to the Berea College Sound Archives for ongoing preservation and access for researchers, connoisseurs, and family members
Completion of a comprehensive inventory of Reedy music collection and finding aid for Berea College Sound Archives
Public Presentation at Berea College on Research and Findings
Compiling an online bibliography of websites and other resources related to Appalachian musical migration during the early 1950’s through the mid-1960’s
Digital documentation of additional media findings such as photographs, news clippings, recordings, liner notes, etc. that will bolster existing resources of Berea College, Miami University at Hamilton, and independent scholars and collectors
Begin collection and archiving of interview footage with other Reedy family members, Appalachian music enthusiasts in Dayton, and contemporary Rock-a-Billy performers in the Dayton area
Multi-media conference presentation at the 2010 Appalachian Studies Conference
Proposed 1-hour radio special (summarizing the history, describing the research, and sampling the Reedys’ music) for WMMT/Appalshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky
Beginning interviews with other researchers/collectors about the impact of the Appalachian labor migration on the musical heritage of the Dayton area and Appalachian music
Documenting additional obscure record labels of Appalachian/Rock-a-Billy music as well as contemporary bands/concerts in the Dayton area
All of the above research outcomes would also serve as the primary components of the two long-term projects of (1) re-mastering, producing, and releasing a new digital compilation of Reedy music, and (2) researching and producing a video documentary about the Reedys’ music, temporary migration, and their influence on the still thriving Rock-a-Billy music scene in Dayton.