December 2020 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Pick 5: Songs to Ring in the New Year

For our “Pick 5” blog series, we ask members of the Radio Bristol team or our BCM staff to pick five songs within a given theme – from heartsongs to murder ballads and everything in between! Once they pick their “5,” they get the chance to tell us more about why they chose those songs. With a diverse staff of knowledgeable DJs, we’re sure to get some interesting song choices, which might introduce you to some new music, all easily accessible by tuning into Radio Bristol!

For this final “Pick 5” of the year, four members of staff shared songs with us that made them think of a new year, new beginnings, new resolutions, basically anything that rings in the new and says goodbye to the old, along with the fifth pick, an old and traditional favorite. This past year has been difficult on so many fronts – from the heartbreak and devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and social justice issues to economic hardship and natural disasters to the isolation we’ve all felt, along with “murder hornets” and other oddities. While 2020 has been incredibly challenging, we’ve also found strength and courage, empathy and compassion within it, and so we can hold onto those feelings as we head into the new year – with just a few songs to help create a “new start” soundtrack to help us take those first few tentative steps forward!

“New Year’s Eve,” Jerry Douglas – June Marshall, Museum Manager

“On New Year’s Eve, swear I can change, become a child again… Let myself believe that the days to come are mine.” 

I love remembering what it was like as a child when there were no adult worries yet and just taking things as they came and staying in the moment. Enjoying those moments for what they were.  Some of these lyrics take me to that place again and bring joy to my heart once again…

“This Will Be Our Year,” The Zombies – Toni Doman, Grants Coordinator

In regards to new beginnings, The Zombies said it best:

  • “You don’t have to worry
  • All your worried days are gone
    This will be our year
    Took a long time to come.”  

I picked this song because of the positive vibes and message within the lyrics, lighthearted and catchy melody, and references to the good things to come just over the horizon if we can just hang on a little while longer. We could all use a little more positivity; the forecast may call for rain but there are brighter and sunnier days ahead! 

“New Day Rising,” Hüsker Dü – Scotty Almany, Digital Media, Programming, & Exhibit Logistics Manager

A song that comes up for me within the theme of “newness” is the title track from seminal Saint Paul, Minnesota punk rock band Hüsker Dü’s third album, New Day Rising.  

The emotion from this song comes from its sound and delivery, especially because the lyrics are about 99% of the song’s title repeated throughout. There is an urgency that can be translated as triumph or motivation to persevere all depending on your current mood when you hear this one. It really gives me the same feeling that I felt from the “This too shall pass…” parable of King Solomon’s Ring, which is a lesson that has been a constant in my life since I first heard it as a teenager. For me, this makes it a perfect anthem for embarking on 2021. There is light on the horizon but plenty of work still to be done. There is a New Day Rising and how it goes has a lot to do with how we approach/navigate it.

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Israel Kamakawiwo ‘ole – René Rodgers, Head Curator

I’ve always liked this song, ever since first hearing it sung by Judy Garland during my childhood viewing of The Wizard of Oz. But this tune became even more magical to me the first time I heard it sung by the much-missed and revered Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo ‘ole. The lyrics are simple and familiar, but Iz’s version with his lovely voice backed by ukulele (the happiest of instruments) just makes me feel hopeful and joyous. It makes me imagine that we can look beyond the rainbow to a better day, wish on stars for dreams, large and small, and move forward into the new year with purpose.

“Auld Lang Syne,” various

“Auld Lang Syne” is a New Year’s Eve tradition, and therefore there are hundreds of versions of this song out there in live performances, recordings, and movie and television soundtracks. You can find a version in every genre and by numerous artists — including a traditional “Celtic” version by Mari Campbell and Emily Smith, a Lou Rawls’ R&B cover, a punk rock interpretation by MxPx, a stringband performance in a stairwell by the US Army’s Six-String Soldiers, a sweet and soulful version by Daniel Dye and the Miller Road Band, and one wonderfully adorned with the Scottish pipes by the rock-fueled Red Hot Chili Pipers. But my personal favorite is the home-recorded bluegrass version by Reina del Cid below that I found on YouTube just by chance.

The song’s lyrics are from a 1788 poem by Scottish poet Robert Burns, and it was popularized in the United States by Guy Lombardo from his first New Year’s Eve performance of the song in 1939. “Auld Lang Syne” is literally translated as “old long since” and more familiarly thought of as “days gone by,” “long long ago,” and “old time.” The song is sung as a way of bidding goodbye to the past year, something I think so many of us are feeling we want to do to 2020 with an additional “good riddance.” However, leaving behind 2020 can’t be done without the remembrance of friends and family we’ve missed seeing and those we’ve lost, and without looking back on the hard lessons and truths we’ve learned with the intent of coming together to make the world a much better place. And so I take to heart certain lyrics in the song, from the additional meaning behind “for auld lang syne” as “for the sake of old times” to “And there’s a hand my trusty friend! / And give me a hand o’ thine!” to “a cup of kindness,” and look to the year ahead with those sentiments in mind.

Thomas Edison: From “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to Recorded Music

On December 24, 1877, inventor Thomas Edison filed for a patent for his “talking machine” or cylinder phonograph. This technology was transformative, successfully reproducing recorded sound and thus setting the stage for our experience of listening to the music we love whenever and wherever we want to!

To celebrate this important date in sound history, it is worth briefly exploring the story of Edison’s early work in recorded sound. Other inventors had already made inroads with different technologies that facilitated communication and transmitted sound – for instance, Samuel Morse with the telegraph in 1844, and Alexander Graham Bell with the telephone in 1876. However, the recording and playback of sound had not been achieved before Edison’s work, the result of several months of diligent labor on the concept of the phonograph. He marked his success with the recording and playback of his own recitation of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and his remembrance of this occasion can be heard below. Later Edison noted: “I was never so taken aback in my life – I was always afraid of things that worked the first time.”

Two months after filing, the patent for Edison’s phonograph was issued on February 19, 1878. At first, Edison thought that his machine would be primarily useful in the business world as a correspondence and dictation device. Along with that function, however, he envisioned various other uses, including the connection to playing music:

  • Phonographic books for blind people
  • A device for teaching elocution
  • The reproduction of music
  • A “family record” machine to record memories, sayings, last words of dying relatives, etc.
  • Music boxes and toys
  • “Talking” clocks that could keep you on schedule
  • To preserve languages and their pronunciation
  • An educational resource to preserved teachers’ lessons and explanations for later referral
  • To record telephone conversations
Left: A baby doll with porcelain head (bald), metal body with speaker area at top of torso, and articulated wooden limbs. Right: A 19th-century drawing of a man standing in front of a large cabinet Edison phonograph with what look like earphones plugged into the machine.
Left: In 1890, Edison’s company began producing “talking” doll toys that contained small wax cylinder playback machines. Frankly, this is the stuff of nightmares… Right: In late 1889, “coin-in-the-slot” phonographs were introduced in San Francisco, giving people the chance to listen to songs at 5 cents each. The first of these used an Edison phonograph as its base machine. Photograph taken at the National Museum of American History; artist’s rendering of a coin-slot phonograph from radiomuseum.org

The general way these early cylinder phonographs worked was that a person would talk (or sing) into the large end of an acoustic recording horn, which fit into a machine housing a diaphragm and stylus. The sound wave vibrations caused a carriage arm to move across a metal cylinder wrapped in tinfoil (later these became wax cylinders) upon which the stylus inscribed a continuous vertical groove – thus recording the sound being made, which could then later be played back and listened to with delight!

Edison bowed out of the phonograph field for almost 10 years as he concentrated on creating and mass-producing the electric light bulb – creating light out of the darkness in wealthy homes and many cities. But when he returned to the technology of recorded sound, he was continually innovating and producing new models and types of phonographs, and one of his subsidiaries – Columbia Phonograph Company – had also been producing cylinder recordings of popular music of the day. As with most technology, competitors arose and new versions and innovations were developed throughout this time, including the graphophone of Alexander Graham Bell, Chichester Bell, and Charles Sumner Tainter and Emile Berliner’s disc gramophone, and the switch from acoustic horn to electric microphone recording. And with them, and over the following years, came more and more musical recordings by different companies and within a variety of genres – from what is widely considered the first “satisfactory” musical recording (of Italian tenor Enrico Caruso) in 1902 to the later early “hillbilly” tunes of the 1920s that we know and love.

A black-and-white photograph of a large room filled with different musical instruments, including two pianos, a small drum, and what looks to be a small organ, along with several phonograph machines.

Edison’s phonograph experimental laboratory in Orange, New Jersey, in 1892. Image from the Library of Congress

This blog post shares only one small part of Edison’s story – and an even smaller part of the story of recorded sound. If you want a much fuller history of Edison’s work and impact, there is much to be found on the internet – including a great article from the Library of Congress. Interestingly, research has also uncovered several older instances of recorded sound – that of the French inventor Edouard-Leon Scott, whose invention, the phonautograph or phono-autograph, produced a sound recording almost 20 years before Edison’s phonograph, including a snipped of the song “Claire de Lune.” Check out this NPR transcript of an interview with Patrick Feaster, one of the researchers, as he describes the discovery, noting: “It’s the earliest recognizable recording of the human voice, the earliest recording of a vocal musical performance, the oldest recognizable snippet of sound in any recognizable language. So, it’s a lot of firsts.”

Museum Store Artisan Spotlight: Debbie Grim Yates, Susan Prior Fields & John Gunther

A general shot of The Museum Store focused on the front display table -- goods seen here include a large colored metal boot, a folk art piece based on the Bristol Sign, wood and fabric baskets, Farm & Fun Time t-shirts and a Season 1 print, glassware, and jewelry.
The Museum Store in the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Earl Neikirk

Back in November, we began our first in a series of blogs highlighting three talented artisans whose work we have commissioned to sell in The Museum Store at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. These creatives elevate the idea of a souvenir to heirloom status, and this month we continue our series by featuring three more artists whose unique, handmade pieces are true masterpieces.

Photo of a ceramic tray with flower designs and a crossed banjo and guitar with musical themed mug and flower vase.
Debbie Grim Yate’s music-themed pottery.
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Earl Neikirk

Debbie Grim Yates

Debbie Grim Yates began her pottery career with an apprenticeship under Robin and Bet Mangum of Sparta, North Carolina in 1993. Like most potters, Debbie quickly became addicted to the clay and, over time, her pottery work evolved into a full-time pottery business in her home studio in beautiful Konnarock, Virginia near Whitetop Mountain. Her love of the work and the resulting quality of her finished pottery has helped her business to grow each year. Debbie’s shop is a trail site on the Smyth County Artisan Trail, and she is a member of ‘Round the Mountain Artisan Network. In addition to The Museum Store, Debbie also sells her pottery at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace and Holston Mountain Artisans in Abingdon, along with numerous other craft shops in Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. She works primarily with stoneware clay, making wheel-thrown and slab-built functional and decorative pottery.

In addition to her pottery, Debbie is also an accomplished musician combining a soft but powerful singing voice with the ability to play the banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin. She and husband Tim perform as Acoustic Heritage. Both Debbie and Tim came from musical families, and she hopes to pass on both her pottery trade and her family’s legacy of music-making to her two daughters.

Honeysuckle flowers made from intricate yellow and green beads.
Susan Prior Fields’ floral beadwork.
Photo credit: Susan Prior Fields

Susan Prior Fields

One of The Museum Store’s most prolific and popular artisans is Susan Prior Fields. Susan is self-taught and highly skilled in the craft known as beadwork or “beading” and has utilized that talent to create handcrafted art pieces for more than 30 years. To create her beaded flower and tree sculptures and floral-inspired jewelry, she says that she utilizes “repetition, pattern, precise technique, color, sheen, and translucency, all inspired by nature and thousands of tiny seed beads.” Susan’s flowers are done in the “French method” using wire and beads. The flowers appear fragile but are very robust, strong, and permanent. Her trees are very labor-intensive and most take up to three months to complete. Susan’s jewelry consists of a variety of different tiny beads stitched one bead at a time to create a wearable piece of art.  Each of Susan’s jewelry pieces normally takes one to two full days to create.

Susan has lived in Abingdon, Virginia, for 50 years. She and her husband Charles have two daughters, Suzanna (Richmond, VA) and Gwen (Chattanooga, TN), and one grandson. Suzanna Fields is an award-winning artist whose work is in notable public and private collections. Check her out at www.suzannafields.com. You can also visit Susan Prior Fields on Facebook to see more beautiful creations by the artist.

A wooden ladder-like pieces displaying several different colored scarves on the rungs.
John Gunther’s colorful scarves.
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Earl Neikirk

John Gunther

A native of Flint, Michigan, one time self-described “peace and love hippie” John Gunther now resides on the outskirts of Abingdon, Virginia, with his wife Janet. John was one of the original juried artisans signed to The Museum Store in 2014. His colorful, luxurious, affordable, and hand-woven chenille scarves have proven popular with museum patrons for themselves and as gifts. Each scarf is a colorful work of art with a cozy, silky feel that becomes even softer with age. The Museum Store also carries some of John’s woven aluminum art pieces, which he has sold coast-to-coast.

John received a loom as a gift while still a student at Michigan State University and began to learn and understand the diverse uses and possibilities of woven fabrics mixed with other materials such as woods or metals. He graduated MSU in 1972 and lived in Wyoming for a short time before moving to this region. Early in his weaving career, John focused totally on “functional” weaving, making things like shelving, lighting, floor coverings, and wearable clothing, which he sold at local and regional craft shows. Since the 1990s, John has been more focused on “artistic” weaving with his scarves, landscapes using dyed merino wool, and woven creations using aluminum sheeting as his medium. He continues to find new directions to express his art. Visit his website at GuntherWeavings.com to see more examples of his beautiful work.

Each of these artisans, along with around 50 others, are featured in The Museum Store at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Museum admission is not needed when visiting The Museum Store, and it’s a great destination for holiday shopping. Most artisan items for sale in The Museum Store are not sold online due to inventory limitations. To peruse other items sold in The Museum store, click here.

*Note: There’s perhaps nothing more personal than a gift of the arts, so be sure and stop by the museum – and our wonderful downtown – to support local artisans and small businesses!

“Enjoy the Pluck:” The Farm and Fun Time Heirloom Recipe with Michael Henningsen

Radio Bristol’s Farm and Fun Time is the flagship show of Radio Bristol’s programming, and it continues to grow in popularity as we begin reaching a broader audience through the magic of television! Music is just one part of the cultural celebration that is Farm and Fun Time. Each show also includes various segments focused on our region’s culture and traditions. The “Heirloom Recipe” segment has become a fan favorite.

The segment highlights the significant role food plays in our region’s culture. Just as one ingredient can be used to make many dishes, a recipe can mean many different things to different folks. Each recipe presenter, ranging from park rangers to professional chefs to authors, brings a distinct recipe with a meaningful history behind it. To round out the segment, Bill and the Belles performs an original jingle written to commemorate each recipe and the story presented.

Cooking and passing down recipes is a big part of Appalachian culture, and the stories that go along with them often become part of our family – and wider – lore. Our recent contributor Michael Henningsen presented on the wonders of the polarizing Scottish staple known as “the common man’s meatloaf” – haggis! We spoke with Michael about the history of this famed (and sometimes shamed) dish.

A bearded Michael Henningsen standing behind a bar, holding a bottle of wine. He is wearing period clothing including a straw hat with a black ribbon, a jacket and plaid vest and a neckerchief.
Michael Henningsen in character as Scottish poet Robert Burns.

“During the early settlement of the Appalachians, the local tavern, or ‘ordinary,’ was the center of music and dance. The Scots who settled here brought with them their music, instruments, dance, ideas, and ethics. Two characters who were prominent in influencing the culture of the area were Robert Burns – the national poet of Scotland – and Niel Gow, the famous Scottish fiddler. Their fame grew in Scotland during the American Revolution, and they at times performed together, often complementing each other’s work. Burns’ loyalty to the English crown was frequently called into question as much of his work seemed to promote the American cause, even scribing an ‘Ode to George Washington’ and his ‘Ballad of the American War.’ Although Burns and Gow never played the colonies, it was in the taverns where Burns’ verse would be recited by local poetry societies and Gow’s jigs and reels would keep feet dancing until the wee hours of the morning. It is believed that the American square dance can even be traced back to taverns in Southwest Virginia, who engaged full-time dance instructors to teach the young ladies and gentlemen all the popular dances of the day – Appalachian style!

Henningsen piercing a haggis with a long knife/short sword while it sits on a wooden sideboard.
Henningsen taking a stab at cooking haggis.

In the ‘ordinary,’ a weary traveler could find good company, lively music, a warm bed – although you may be sharing that bed with a stranger – and you could find ‘ordinary’ food like ‘peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.’ For the Scots, extra-ordinary food would have to wait for special occasions, and one such dish was what Burns dubbed the ‘chieftain of the puddin’ race’ – the haggis! Haggis is a stout sausage made of lamb and roasted grains, particularly known for including the ‘pluck’ of the lamb – the liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs boiled in the stomach as a casing. Haggis was considered farm food, only fit for peasants, until Robert Burns immortalized the haggis in his poem, ‘Address to the Haggis.’ Often referred to as the ‘Heaven-taught Ploughman,’ Burns fancied himself a farmer, and much of his work brought honor to the common man and common struggles, helping usher in the ‘romantic’ era of the arts. Today, Robert Burns is honored annually at Burns suppers around the world, featuring the music, song, dance, and culture of the Scots. Central to the evening’s festivities is the grand entrance, address to, toasting to, carving of, and dining on the chieftain of the puddin’ race … the Haggis!”

Address to a Haggis poem and its translation.

Michael Henningsen is Executive Director of Corps Values Music Heritage (CVMH), a local non-profit organization dedicated to “bringing history to life through music.” They offer History Alive! Tours as an educational service that tells the stories of Southwest Virginia through the eyes of folks who lived here and influenced our culture – particularly the Scots, whose music and dance are at the heart of so much of Appalachian culture.

Do you enjoy a hearty helping of haggis from time to time? Watch the full “Heirloom Recipe” segment below including an original haggis jingle “Enjoy the Pluck” performed by Bill and the Belles! For more heirloom recipes watch Farm and Fun Time weekly on Blueridge PBS, East TN PBS and WUNC TV.

Radio Bristol Book Club: Mama, Me, & the Holiday Tree

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club! Each month, readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together to celebrate and explore one book inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage. We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 11:00am when we will dig deep into the feelings and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

Our book for December is Mama, Me, & the Holiday Tree. Fantasy fiction set in Washington and Unicoi Counties in Tennessee on Embreeville Mountain, this 2018 book is simultaneously down-home, imaginative, and groundbreaking for its placement of fey creatures in East Tennessee. By local author Jeanne G’Fellers, Mama, Me, & the Holiday Tree speaks to the ways our family members influence our lives at different ages and in various states of grace and imperfection – and ultimately how family can sometimes find common ground despite differences. Set during the Christmas season, G’Fellers story also highlights how holidays mark our lives.

The cover of the book is a close up on a wooden tabletop where a mug of tea/coffee, a candle, holiday dcor, and some capsule pills sit.
The cover for Mama, Me, & the Holiday Tree, published by Mountain Gap Books.

Jeanne G’Fellers is a Washington County, Tennessee-based author. She’s authored ten published books, including Surrogate (2017), Cleaning House (2018), and Striking Balance (2020), along with editing or contributing to three others. She is also a mixed media artist. Her efforts in literature and arts support her as she copes with the disabilities that partially govern her life. You can visit https://jeannegfellersauthor.com/ for more information about her work.

The artists collage consists of 7 different sections ranging from butterflies, a portrait, leaves, abstract designs, and different words and fonts.
Mixed-media collage by Jeanne G’Fellers.

Be sure to tune in on Thursday, December 17 at 11:00am – a week earlier than normal due to Christmas the following week – to hear the book club discussion about Mama, Me, and the Holiday Tree! You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. And be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. We look forward to sharing our thoughts on this wonderful Appalachian fantasy journey!

Looking ahead: We have picked all of the books for 2021 – and are looking forward to a wide range of titles and topics from Dolly Parton’s songwriting and Affrilachian folktales to a Carter Family graphic novel and an illustrated fiction book about Appalachian economic and social challenges. Our first pick of the new year – I Saw the Light: The Story of Hank Williams by Colin Escott – will be discussed on Thursday, January 28 at 11:00am. Happy reading!