April 2021 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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1927: From Babe Ruth to Country Music

Today is National Babe Ruth Day!

Did you know that the summer of 1927 saw a whole host of important historic and cultural milestones, including Babe Ruth’s home run record and, of course, the 1927 Bristol Sessions? Author Bill Bryson’s book One Summer: America, 1927 explores that amazing summer in his usual charming and fact-fueled style, and – along with today’s celebration of Babe Ruth – serves as inspiration for this April 27 blog post, which goes down rabbit holes and tangents to explore other 1927 connections!

But first, what does Bryson’s book cover? Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis on May 20—21 is one of the topics, along with Calvin Coolidge’s presidency and his decision not to run for a second full term in 1928 and the Great Mississippi Flood, which had its beginnings in 1926 and ended up covering 27,000 square miles in water and displacing thousands of people from their homes and land. Bryson also tackles the controversial trial and execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, anarchists accused of armed robbery and murder; the introduction of Ford’s new Model A car; and the release of the first talkie, The Jazz Singer. And then, of course, Bryson shares the story of the New York Yankees’ achievements on the baseball diamond in the summer of 1927 – with 110 wins and 44 losses, a sweeping victory in the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Babe Ruth hitting his 60th home run of the season on September 30, setting a record that wouldn’t be broken for 34 years.

Left: Black-and-white image of Babe Ruth -- a large man -- standing in a baseball stance with the bat on his shoulder. The baseball stadium is in the background.
Top right: The small silver Spirit of St. Louis is suspended from the ceiling of the museum. It's name is written on the airplane's nose.
Bottom right: A red old-fashioned looking car.

Babe Ruth photographed in his batting stance (National Photo Company Collection, Library of Congress); the Spirit of St. Louis on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.; and a Ford Model A car (Wikimedia Commons).

So what about country music? Well, of course, the summer of 1927 also saw the Bristol Sessions being recorded between July 25 and August 5. With performers like Ernest Stoneman – an experienced and prolific musician in the burgeoning hillbilly music industry – and hugely impactful newcomers like The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, along with a host of other interesting artists and recordings, the 1927 Bristol Sessions became known as “the big bang of country music.” Sadly, the Sessions did not make it into Bryson’s book – maybe they’ll make an appearance in a later edition, fingers crossed! – though the Library of Congress has recognized them as among the 50 most significant sound recordings of all time.

Large metal historic marker with the Tennessee symbol of three stars on a blue background with red border at the top. The words briefly describe the Bristol Sessions. A brick building can be seen in the background.

This historic marker about the 1927 Bristol Sessions is located next to the Birthplace of Country Music’s offices at 416 State Street, the former site of the Taylor-Christian Hat Company building where the 1927 Bristol Sessions were recorded. © Bristol Herald Courier

But are there other country music stories to be found in 1927? Interestingly, we can connect Charles Lindberg to country music through two 1927 recordings by Vernon Dalhart: “Lindbergh (The Eagle of the USA)” and “Lucky Lindy!” Both of these records sold well, and a couple of other hillbilly performers also had big hits in 1927 – Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers with “John Henry (Steel-Drivin’ Man)” and Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers with “White House Blues.”

Three record labels:
Left, red label for Champion Records detailing the title and performer's name.
Center, black Columbia label detailing the title and performer's name.
Right, black Columbia label detailing the title and performer's name.

Record labels for Vernon Dalhart’s “Lindbergh (The Eagle of the U.S.A.),” Gid Tanner’s “John Henry (Steel-Drivin’ Man),” and Charlie Poole’s “White House Blues.”

There were also several country and bluegrass stars born in 1927:

  • Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley (February 25)
  • Carl Smith (March 15), known as “Mister Country” and once married to June Carter
  • Charlie Louvin (July 27), part of the Louvin Brothers and a member of the Grand Ole Opry
  • Nudie-suited performer and TV personality Porter Wagoner (August 12), who introduced Dolly Parton to the world in 1967 via The Porter Wagoner Show
  • Jimmy C. Newman (August 29), country music performer and Cajun singer-songwriter
  • Songwriter Harlan Howard (September 8)
  • Leon Rausch (October 2), known as “the voice” of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
  • Patti Page (November 8), crossover pop and country artist
  • Bob Ferguson (December 30), a musician and producer who was instrumental in establishing Nashville as country music’s center

For a few more musical connections to 1927, first take a look at the pages from a 1927 Sears Roebuck catalog. While these catalogs were produced yearly and so this isn’t unique to 1927, it is a great insight into what kinds of instruments you could buy from Sears Roebuck and what the 1927 prices were! And then there were two milestones in American radio history that are tied to 1927. The U.S. Federal Radio Commission (later known as the FCC) began to regulate radio frequencies on February 23, 1927. And on September 18 of that year, the country saw the debut of CBS, which went on air with 47 radio stations, later becoming a powerhouse in the new technology of television.

Three images of Sears Roebuck 1927 catalog:
Left, the catalog cover shwoing a man and woman poring over the catalog together, with a dog or cat at their feet. A woman in a big hat is in the corner of the cover, and the words The Roaring Twenties are seen at the bottom.
Center: A page filled with different banjos with descriptions and prices.
Right: A page filled with different guitars with descriptions and prices.

This facsimile of the 1927 Sears Roebuck catalog is in the museum’s collections and on display in our permanent exhibits. © Birthplace of Country Music

These are just a few of the stories and historical or cultural moments from 1927 – there are many, many more beyond my primary focus here on music connections. And so to finish this post off, why don’t you go down your own rabbit hole? The Smithsonian, always a great source of information on any and all topics, can get you started with a trove of treasures that all connect to the year 1927, some discussed above, some more obscure, but all interesting. You can check out these objects and images here.

Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion: Homecoming

A group of three men and one woman, the men wearing matching t-shirts that read "Swedish Music Fans US Tour 2018."
A Bristol Rhythm reunion for international visitors from Sweden, 2018. A mighty fun group!

We always say that once we get someone to Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion for the first time, they’ll be back. We love hearing stories from visitors who tell us how they discovered our event and return every year, and how they tell friends and family about it so they can enjoy it together.

A few weeks ago in the blog post Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion: The Road Home, I shared the first three videos in our 20th anniversary docuseries about the festival’s humble beginnings and how the event has evolved over the years. In this fourth and final episode, we discuss how Bristol Rhythm was designed to be a homecoming for fans and artists alike.

Make the 20th anniversary of Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion a homecoming this September 10-12, 2021! See the full lineup and order weekend passes here before the price increases May 1.

The Root of It: Vivian Leva on Texas Gladden

Radio Bristol is excited to share “The Root of It,” a new series connecting today’s influential musicians to often lesser known and sometimes obscure musicians of the early commercial recording era. The sounds and musicians we hear today on platforms like Radio Bristol can often be traced back to the sounds of earlier generations. What better way to discover these connections than to talk to the musicians themselves about some of the artists that have been integral in shaping their music. These influences, though generally not household names, continue to inspire those who dig deep to listen through the scratches and noise of old 78s, field recordings, and more, finding nuances and surprises that inevitably lead them on their own unique musical journeys.

For this installment of “The Root of It,” we spoke with standout roots duo Vivian Leva and Riley Calcagno. Leva and Calcagno have been stalwarts within the old-time community since they were children, both coming from a lineage of celebrated old-time performers. Leva and Calcagno not only shine within the bounds of old-time string band traditions, but they also skillfully break outside the barriers often set by traditional music with well-crafted songwriting and unique singing and arranging, exemplified on their recent self-titled release on Freedirt Records. Their songs breathe with maturity beyond their years, eloquently speaking to the current state of our times while managing to retain a timeless sound built upon the foundation of old-time and classic country. Leva, a native of Lexington, Virginia, has long been inspired by renowned Saltville, Virginia, ballad singer Texas Gladden. Though Gladden was celebrated as a skilled singer and considered an important figure within Appalachian music culture, she never commercially recorded. Thankfully folk archivist and field recorder Alan Lomax recorded Gladden in depth for the Library of Congress and the Southern Journey series (worth seeking out for a listen). We asked Leva to share with us some of the reasons why the music of Texas Gladden keeps her inspired.

Left image: A young woman and man sitting on a concrete wall. The woman is white with her brunette hair pulled back in a ponytail; she wears a white t-shirt, jeans and sneakers. The man is white with dark hair and a beard; he wears a patterned button-down shirt, black pants, and holds a banjo. You can see a house, trees, and a telephone behind them. Right: The album cover shows a white man in an untucked grey button-down shirt and dark pants, looking towards a white woman with shoulder-length brunette-blondish hair and wearing a floral dress. They are inside what looks like an old, run down house and you can see fields outside the windows; the sun is shining through so that you see sun glare in the camera. Their names -- Vivian Leva and Riley Calgano -- are written in script acoss the photograph.

Vivian Leva and Riley Calcagno have been steadily garnering public praise and critical acclaim for their skillful songwriting and unique singing. Image and album cover art courtesy of Leva and Calcagno for Free Dirt Records.

Vivian Leva:

“I remember the first time I heard the plaintive, clear tone of Texas Gladden’s voice. I was 13 or 14, sitting in the car with my dad. The sound of Texas Gladden singing ‘One Morning in May’ drifted through the speakers. I was captivated by Texas’s voice, and by the story of a young woman and her tragic death. Over the course of the next few months, I listened to that track and to my dad singing it over and over again. It wasn’t before long that I learned it as well. At the time, my dad was working on a project with Stephen Wade, who wrote about Texas in his book, The Beautiful Music All Around Us. The two of them asked me to join them on their trip to visit and perform for Texas Gladden’s family. We went first to Salem, then to Saltville, Virginia, where I had the privilege of singing ‘One Morning in May’ for Texas’s kin.”

This black-and-white image shows a young man with dark hair and a short beard with an older woman with her grey hair pulled back in a bun at the nape of her neck. The man is smiling at the woman, and she looks at him with a small smile and holds a fan below her chin.

Texas Gladden was a celebrated ballad singer from Smyth County, Virginia, who recorded regularly with Alan Lomax from the early 1940s into the early 1960s. Alan Lomax Collection, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

”Most of the information I have about Texas comes from a chapter in Stephen Wade’s book. According to him, Texas was born in Saltville, Virginia, about two and a half hours from where I grew up in Lexington, Virginia. My parents were one of her many appreciators, and thoroughly considered naming me Texas. It would have fit into a long tradition, as Texas had sisters named Kansas and Virginia, and a cousin named Tennessee.

She was born and raised in a musical family. Both of her grandparents played the fiddle, and her parents played the banjo. Often, her family held square dances at their house, where people would come to dance and play. Texas inherited many of the ballads that she sang from her mother, and formed a close musical bond with her brother, Hobart Smith. Although she never pursued a career in music, her songs nevertheless reached many through the recordings made by the Lomax family and other folk song collectors.

I didn’t realize how much Texas’s music was woven into my everyday life. One of my favorite tracks off of the Troublesome Creek Stringband’s CD was the song “Three Babes.” I listened to it all the time, and loved singing along to the sad tale. Later, I realized that they had gotten it from Texas, and, after listening, I was similarly intrigued by her version. Texas’s voice, to me, somehow is both soft and cutting. She is gentle, but also sharp and clear. The way she sings, it is almost impossible to not become absorbed in the story.”


Texas Gladden singing “Cold Mountains,” one of the songs recorded in Salem, Virginia by Shirley Collins and Alan Lomax in 1959. 

“In October of 2016, my bandmate Riley sent me a YouTube video of Texas singing “Cold Mountains.” We decided to arrange it into a string band version and to write a chorus for it. It was exciting to not just try to imitate Texas, but to expand upon the song and imagine what she might like. Texas Gladden was one of the first singers that inspired me to learn ballads. She continues to be an example to me of not just how to sing pretty, but how to tell a story.”

To learn more about Vivian Leva and Riley Calcagno, visit their website. Their debut, self-titled album released in March 2021 on Free Dirt Records. Check out the music video for “Will You” from the album:

Radio Bristol Book Club: Affrilachian Tales – Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club where readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore a 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 our NEW TIME of 12:00pm when we dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

This month’s Radio Bristol Book Club pick is Lyn Ford’s Affrilachian Tales: Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition. While the stereotypical Appalachian person is of Scots Irish or German descent, Ford’s wonderful collection of folktales reveals the region’s sometimes hidden diversity in this collection of delightful tales derived from African-American Appalachian oral tradition.  While the stories have universal appeal, it’s their rustic charm that lifts the collection – including tales such as “Why Possum’s Tail is Bare,” “Turtle Wants to Fly,” and “Jack and the Old Woman.” Even though the book is only about 150 pages long, it includes important autobiographical and historical information to put the tales in context.

The cover of Affrilachian Tales shows a grey wooden barn with a split rail fence around it and the pasture in the foreground. Trees in autumn colors are behind the barn.

The cover of Lyn Ford’s Affrilachian Tales.

This is a book to be shared with family, whether in front of a fire or wrapped in a blanket on the porch under the stars.  These tales are meant to be loved, learned, and passed down to the next generation.

Lyn Ford is nationally recognized as an award-winning fourth-generation storyteller, author and educator. She is an Affrilachian storyteller and a “keeper and adapter” of her family’s stories. She has shared her stories in 29 states and Ireland, and she says that her career as a storyteller has been fortuitous because storytelling has been a part of her family’s tradition for generations.  Her stories are “adaptations of folktales, spooky tales, and original stories rooted in her family’s multicultural African-American Appalachian (Affrilachian) heritage.” Lyn’s favorite storyteller is her father, Edward M. Cooper, whom she says was “the best storyteller she ever heard, and the worse cook in the family” – which sounds like the beginnings of a story itself! You can check out one of Lyn’s stories here.

An image of a Black woman with grey, curly, chin-length hair. She is smiling widely. She wears a black and white patterned top with a red, black, and white scarf around her neck.

Author Lyn Ford.

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, April 22 at 12:00pm! You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. The librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to sharing our thoughts on the stories and tales told by Ford, and we’ll also be talking to the author after our discussion so you can also get her perspective!

If you have any thoughts or questions about this book that you would like to share with our readers (and listeners!), you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead, we will be reading Trampoline by Robert Gipe for our May book club, airing on Thursday, May 27, 12:00pm. And you can see the full 2021 Radio Bristol Book Club list and listen to archived book clubs here.