Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Retro Reedys Making Friends with Facebook

It's hard to believe that we started this documentary blog in 2009. After gathering some feedback from our blog poll and informal conversations, we finally decided to create a Facebook page for the "Remembering the Reedys" documentary project. We had some misgivings about Facebook overtaking the focus of the media content, research, and commentary featured on the original blog site. However, we ultimately value and want to participate in the social media networks and potential for sharing the Reedys' story with new audiences.

On April 6, the day after we launched new page, we were thinking about Frances, who passed away more than a decade ago. We still miss her every day, and we're so grateful that other people love and remember Frances and John Reedy and the contributions they made to their families, region, and music history. Feel free to share this page with other friends, family, and fans... but remember to return to this documentary blog for the most recent updates and new media content. You can like and share on Facebook below without even leaving this site.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Ralph Stanley Radio Interview Refers to Reedys

We continue finding and receiving new treasures and feedback related to Frances and John Reedy. We recently learned that their rendition of the song "Oh Death" and its influence on the Stanley Brothers' version of the song is documented in a new digital audio recording and a book that was published in 2015.

We have mentioned the Reedys' recording of "Oh Death" in several previous posts, and thanks to the important work of historian Gary B. Reid, we have discovered more documentation of their background role for the Stanley Brothers' recording of the song. He recently shared an amazing archival recording that he agreed we could post. "I thought you might like the attached audio track. It's Ralph Stanley as a guest on 'The Sound of Bluegrass' radio show that was hosted by Frank Godbey in Columbus, Ohio. The date of the program is September 9, 1967. In any event, Frank asked Ralph where he learned the song 'Oh Death.'"




"We learned this song from a feller called John Reedy. He was a, him and his wife, they sang all gospel songs. They were from Harlan, Kentucky, but I think now they're probably around Dayton, Ohio." Frank responds by dedicating the song to the Reedys, saying that they might be within the broadcast reach of the station, WMNI FM. "Let's play this one for the Reedys in case they're listenin'." Timi said that her Mamaw and Papaw were already living back in Kentucky by 1967, so they likely did not hear this dedication.

Frank Godbey is well-known as a Bluegrass musician and expert aficionado, and he and his late wife Marty wrote a number of articles for Bluegrass Unlimited and other publications. He also published a cumulative index of Bluegrass Unlimited, and he is renown as the moderator of BGRASS-L, an internet bluegrass music discussion list founded in 1992. In an archived post from the list-serve, Godbey notes, "In the Summer of 1967 I had a radio show on WMNI-FM, Columbus Ohio", which is the station he identifies in the recording. Apparently he lives in Lexington and is still active as a musician in his current band, Southland Drive.

On the recording, Godbey invites the Reedys to come to Chatauqua Park the next day. According to the Cincinnati-Dayton Bluegrass Heritage list of organizations* compiled by Russell “Mac” McDivitt with help from Fred Barenstein, "The first annual Chatauqua Bluegrass Festival on September 10, 1967 headlined Ralph Stanley with Larry Sparks singing lead, Bill Monroe, the Osborne Brothers, Don Reno and Bill Harrell, Jim McCall and Earl Taylor, Moon Mullins and the Valley Ramblers, the Moore Brothers, and the Cornhuskers." An online track list of Bill Monroe's set at the concert shows that he played John Reedy's gospel song, "Somebody Touched Me." The Reedys are also included on the Cincinnati-Dayton Bluegrass Heritage list of individuals who were influential in the development of the Bluegrass music scene in Dayton and Cincinnati. While the listing is indexed under his name, Frances is included in the reference: "From Harlan County, Kentucky, John Reedy and his wife Frances appeared on radio in Harlan, Kentucky, for many years and became well-known for their bluegrass gospel recordings."

We also found a new reference to Frances and John's version of "Oh Death" in a book chapter entitled, "'Won't You Spare Me Over till Another Year?': Ralph Stanley's Late Voice" in The Late Voice: Time, Age and Experience in Popular Music (2015) by Richard Elliott. The chapter includes an entire section dedicated to the song, which references John but not Frances who actually sang the iconic vocals on their 1961 Starday recording (SEP 166). "When the Stanley Brothers recorded 'Oh Death' in 1964 for the Starday label, they also provided a surprisingly uptempo rendition. But their version, which seems to have been sourced from fellow Starday artist John Reedy, is a changed song, with fewer of the 'Chandler' verses and the addition of the new refrain: 'won't you spare me over till another year, which they or Reedy may have learned from black gospel or spiritual versions." (Elliot 2015:77)


As Gary Reid helped confirm, the 1964 recording referenced in Elliott's book was actually recorded on the King label (LP-918) instead of Starday (although the Stanley Brothers did make numerous recordings on the Nashville label).

It is always good to see the Reedys' influence as founding Bluegrass musicians acknowledged in archival documentation and contemporary scholarship. We are ever grateful to Gary Reid for sharing an important piece of radio history that connects John Reedy (and Frances as his wife) to the Stanley Brothers' famous recording of "Oh Death." Because John Reedy is still emphasized in most references, even when Frances is responsible for the vocal work under discussion, we continue the work of naming her and her contributions within a male-dominated musical tradition. We are also interested in further exploration of the direct connections that Frances and John may have had with African American churches and musicians. It is increasingly clear that their music and that of their contemporaries drew upon (and likely collaborated with) African American spiritual and gospel traditions in ways that were not always publicly acknowledged.

* The Cincinnati-Dayton Bluegrass Heritage website used to be known as the Bgrass, Inc. Heritage List and was hosted by the Miami University of Ohio.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Visual Ethnography in Appalachia

Last year, we were invited to submit an article for peer-reviewed publication in a special issue of Visual Ethnography on “Exploring Digital Ethnography through Embodied Perspective, Role-Playing and Community Participation and Design.” We're proud to say that our article, "Audiovisualizing Family History: An Authoethnography of a Digital Documentary," was recently published! While the full article is not available online without a subscription, the Visual Ethnography website includes the abstract and an image of Frances and John Reedy.

Here is the complete abstract: This article discusses issues of collaboration and voice in the ongoing production of a multimedia and multimodal documentary project about Frances and John Reedy from Harlan, Kentucky, their cyclical migration from Appalachia to Ohio, and their extensive musical recordings and contributions to the founding of Bluegrass music. The authors share insights about the educational purpose and process of producing a personal and public documentary in relation to digital design and community scholarship, family history and counterstorytelling, and memory and representation. Selected multimedia content from the documentary website are featured as examples of the Reedys’ self-documentation practices and how they relate to the collaborative documentary process and productions.

Visual Ethnography is an international scholarly (peer-reviewed) journal focusing on research about “1) the production and use of images and audio-visual media in the socio-cultural practices; 2) digital cultures; 3) contemporary art and anthropology; 4) anthropology of art; 5) vision and gaze; 6) senses and culture; 7) objects, design, architecture and anthropology; 8) bodies and places in an anthropological perspective; 9) theories and methods in anthropology.” 


Thanks to Dr. Natalie Underberg-Goode, the editor of the special issue, for inviting us to write about our project for a new audience. The table of contents and Dr. Underberg-Goode's complete introduction to the special issue are available online from the Visual Ethnography website.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Barkley Marathons Documentary on Netflix

We celebrated Frances Reedy's New Year's Eve birthday on Saturday, December 31, 2016 by finally watching the documentary, The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young. We've previously written about the film and our correspondence with the filmmakers who decided to include a cover of Frances' song "I Feel Jesus" in the closing credits. 

Screenshot (1:29:10 min.) from the closing credits of The Barkley Marathons documentary
We were excited to see that the documentary is now featured on Netflix, so anyone else with an account can watch it too, which we highly recommend. The film is a fascinating, humorous, and heart-wrenching chronicle of the 2012 Barkley Marathons, its eccentric founder, and some of the people who undertake what is one of the most difficult trail races in the world. This brief trailer doesn't include Frances' song, but it offers enough intriguing detail to entice folks to watch the complete film.


Overall, The Barkley Marathons is a well-made and entertaining documentary about an unusual annual event that takes place in Appalachian Tennessee. People from all over the world apply for one of 40 spots to compete in the 60-hour, 100-mile wilderness trek competition. The individual stories of the marathon founder and the people who undertake the grueling challenge are powerful and compelling examples of how much the human spirit and body can aspire to, endure, and sometimes miraculously achieve.

Our main critique was that the film focuses primarily on male voices, and the couple of women who participate barely have any speaking role at all. This is a significant omission in light of the film's focus on the way the race comprises layer upon layer of difficulty, all of which are consciously implemented to confound and compound the complexity of participation from beginning (i.e., finding out how to apply) to end (e.g., the 3-lap "Fun Run," the full 5-lap course, or worse... not finishing at all). So to ignore gender as such an obvious additional layer of difficulty for female participants diminishes the richness of the primary narrative. 

Gender was also an important factor in the record-breaking success of a two-time finisher and the winner of the 2012 race, whose family camped out at the park where the race takes place. Both his mother and wife were diligent and reliable caregivers who constantly fed, nursed, and encouraged him during his brief pit-stops between laps. That said, we were particularly inspired by the story of the graduate student who finished the entire course his first time participating. He achieved his own record-breaking distinction by finishing the closest to the 60-hour time limit for the race. In contrast to the winner, he didn't have a family support network pampering him between laps, but it was amazing to see many of the people who had already dropped out of the race providing him with crucial aid before he began his fifth and final lap.

We really enjoyed The Barkley Marathons and hope other folks will take time to watch it. We thought that Frances' song "I Feel Jesus" was a fitting song to end this unique film about a one-of-a-kind ritual in the Appalachian region. Happy birthday, Frances Reedy, we miss you!

p.s. We also discovered that the version of the song that was included on the soundtrack (recorded by Anna and Elizabeth as "Ooh My My") is finally available online. Happy New Year to all!