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.