Saturday, October 9, 2010

Little Sparrow

About this time last fall, we were in the midst of of our Appalachian Sound Archives Fellowship, organizing photos, memorabilia, and an enormous amount of audio materials that were generated by Frances and John Reedy's Bluegrass music career.  We also digitized and archived some oral history and home video recordings of Frances as well as a rare moving image of John.

We were fortunate enough to get a copy of a home video that was recorded by Harold Reedy, Timi's father, on Christmas in 1980.  The video captures the warm glow after the family shared Christmas dinner together when Harold asked his parents to play some music before they left.  The video camera was, at the time, a new VHS camcorder, so the quality of the footage is a little rough.  But Frances and John still pull off a spirited and entertaining round of some of the family's favorite songs.

We showed the following home movie excerpt of Frances and John performing the song "Little Sparrow" at both our final Fellowship presentation as well as our extended multi-media presentation at this year's Appalachian Studies Association Conference.

The volume of self-documented and preserved audio material that Frances and John intentionally created never ceases to amaze me.  So it's significant that Timi's dad was responsible for capturing what is most likely their last recorded performance and probably the only existing video footage of them together.  Thanks to Timi's dad for his prophetic camera presence and her step-mother for making sure we got a digital copy of the original VHS video.  We are sincerely grateful for the opportunity to collect and archive these materials for both our documentary project as well as the use of other scholars and artists.

An interesting musical parallel occurred last weekend when we watched La Vie En Rose, a historical drama about the life of famous French chanteuse Edith Piaf.  She was dubbed by one of her first managers as La Mome Piaf or "Little Sparrow," and she kept part of the nickname as her stage-name throughout her tragically short life and career.  While her lifestyle and musical style were quite different than the Reedys, they were in fact generational contemporaries who were born and performed professionally around the same historical time periods on different sides of the ocean.  

Frances and John Reedy experienced plenty of their own hard times, but throughout our engagement with the historical materials that document their lives and music, we have witnessed the immense fun and creativity that infused most of their work and play together.  And like La Mome Piaf, they could derive and inspire great joy even, or especially, by singing a sad song like "Little Sparrow."

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