Museum Archives - The Birthplace of Country Music
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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Do you remember coming back to school and being asked to write an essay on “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”? Well, sometimes as adults, we get asked to do this too!

I spent part of my summer vacation – a much-needed respite from my 7:00am to whenever job as a North Carolina educator – learning about museum education at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. For three intense weeks, I completed an internship for my educational leadership doctoral program at Appalachian State University, working with the curatorial staff to design and implement a two-day in-service training for area teachers about the museum’s educational resources and helping to develop museum content lesson plans. Having worked in K-12 and community college education, I was not new to teaching; however, museum education is uniquely different, and this opportunity taught me an expansive amount. Most importantly I learned how museums are a vital non-traditional educational method, and this experience provided me with a fuller appreciation of their importance and impact on our communities and our history.

Introducting elementary school teachers to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum’s lesson plans. © Birthplace of Country Music

When most people think of school and learning, they think of sitting in desks in a classroom. Field trips to museums were treats awarded to the class and provided a break from the mundane everyday classroom monotony. This assessment isn’t wrong, but this internship taught me that there is much more to museums than what we experience in mere field trips. The Birthplace of Country Music Museum is a fun place to visit, filled with music and several interactive technologies for visitors to engage with the music. However, it is also a living educational gem, where the special exhibit is always changing and the curatorial staff is constantly seeking ways to improve the content and to provide visitors with memorable information.

Teaching is ongoing at the museum. When school groups visit, students get an introduction to the story of the 1927 Bristol Sessions and view a film about its history and impact before embarking on a scavenger hunt to learn more. They can also enjoy a game of Banjo Bingo, a fun, interactive way for them to learn about the instruments used in these important recording sessions. The museum’s Special Exhibits Gallery also offers a space for learning focused on different topics throughout the year – from music, Appalachian culture, explorations of art and portraiture, or even wider histories like Civil Rights or the history of work in America. These lessons are often wrapped in an interactive discussion about the artifacts and images on view. Even though students may not even realize it, they are learning valuable information despite not being in a traditional educational venue. The museum is teaching and providing a valuable avenue to provide education in a non-traditional way.

Three images:
Left-hand image: Four sets of lesson plans, two of which have blue and teal covers with their titles "The 1927 Bristol Sessions Story" and "The Instruments of the 1927 Bristol Sessions," and two of which are draft texts for lesson plans on technology and the science of sound and artists/personalities from the 1927 Bristol Sessions.
Top right: The author Amy Myers stands in front of several teachers seated at round tables in a large room. Amy is a white woman with blonde hair; she is wearing a black and white dress and is holding one of the lesson plans up next to a PowerPoint slide presentation.
Bottom right: A group of teachers sit at round tables in a large room. Near the brick wall at the back two teachers (one white man with a white shirt, one white woman with brown hair and a blue top) stand up -- one holds a poster they have created as a group for one of the learning activities.
Working with the curatorial team on the museum’s K-12 lesson plans project and sharing museum educational resources at the July teacher in-service gave me a unique insight into the enormous potential of museum education – and how fun it can be! © Birthplace of Country Music

Further, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum is an important asset to the Bristol community and as a vehicle to explore the history of the region. The premise of the museum focuses on how country music grew out of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, but the museum’s content delves deeply into the rich culture of the Appalachians, a culture that has made Bristol the place it is today. Further, the expansive musical heritage of Bristol is alive and well at this museum, preserving vital information for the community and enabling generations to learn about and to understand their past. The importance of the museum’s role in preserving the area’s history cannot be understated. It is an integral part in preserving the community’s rich heritage.

The list of everything I learned while working at the museum could go on and on, but honestly these facets impacted me the most. The Birthplace of Country Music Museum is a beautiful venue that is dedicated to educating visitors about its history grounded in the region’s music. The staff are amazing, tireless professionals, dedicated to the museum’s mission. I am very thankful for this opportunity afforded me to work alongside these folks and to learn primarily from the curatorial staff. It has changed my outlook on non-traditional education, and I now carry the positive impact of the museum and the Bristol region with me wherever I go. Not only did this experience change how I view museums in general, but it made me further appreciate the role they fulfill in the educational realm. 

Check out the museum’s Education page to learn more about their offerings to the local community and K-12 educators. The museum’s suite of K-12 lesson plans will be uploaded to the website soon.

Amy Myers interned at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in 2021, helping curatorial staff to plan and produce museum lesson plans and deliver a two-day teacher in-service program. She is working on her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership at Appalachian State University, while also working as a teacher in the North Carolina school system.

Tintype Photography: A Bridge from the Past to the Present

In our current special exhibit, Our Living Past: Platinum Portraits of Southern Music Makers, Timothy Duffy of the Music Maker Relief Foundation uses a photographic technology that was most popular in the late 19th century to photograph roots musicians today. The method he uses is most commonly called tintype photography, a form of wet-collodion photography that is quite complicated compared to modern photographic methods. So why does Duffy use this historic technique instead of a modern process?

A Black man is wearing a light colored fedora-style hat with a black sash on it; he also wears a light-colored suit and a tie decorated with paisleys. He has one hand on the neck of a banjo. His eyes are closed and he has a beautific smile on his face.
Little Freddie King. Photograph by Tim Duffy, courtesy of Music Maker Relief Foundation

Before we try to answer that, let’s explore what a tintype photo is and how it is made. Tintype, also called ferrotype, is one of the earliest forms of photography. Developed in the 1850s, this wet-collodion process requires a very large camera, a dark space, a plate, and a good understanding of chemistry. Once exposed, a direct positive image is created on a sheet of metal. This means there are no negatives of the image to make copies from, and so each tintype is completely unique!

Making a tintype is a complicated multi-step process where minor variations such as drying too quickly, light oversensitivity, or slight ripples in the surface of the chemistry can create errors in the final image. However, these “mistakes” are often what give these images their unique beauty. Many modern artists like Duffy sometimes intentionally play with these “mistakes” to create uniquely interesting photos!

Through a haze of black, grey, and white ripples you can see the face of a white man with light-colored hair. This self-portrait has been manipulated so it is not wholly realistic.
Self-Portrait. Photograph by Tim Duffy, courtesy of Music Maker Relief Foundation

What made tintypes stand out compared to other photographic methods of the age, such as ambroytypes or daguerreotypes, was the use of an iron plate instead of a glass one. The iron plate is where the name ferrotype comes from. Though the resulting images weren’t made of tin as the name would suggest, the term was commonly used, based on the cheap or “tinny” feeling of the photos that eventually became the primary identifier of the method. Because tintypes use an iron plate they are much more durable than images printed on glass. They were also less expensive to produce, and the finished product did not require additional, often expensive, protective casing.

In addition to their durability and affordability, tintypes were faster than previous methods. From start to finish the entire chemical process had to be completed in 15 minutes! These three features – speed, durability, and affordability – quickly helped tintypes become the most popular form of photography in the late 19th century. 

For the first time photographers could easily travel and take instant photographs for customers at events such as fairs and in both rural and urban settings. Photographers traveled out west where they recorded images of cowboys and covered wagons. They documented the Civil War, shocking the country with horrific images from battlefields as well as preserving the memory of individual soldiers for loved ones.

These special characteristics also made photography more accessible to a wider range of people. The popularity of tintype photography also coincided with the Emancipation Proclamation and end of the Civil War, meaning that for the first time African Americans were able to have their photographs taken in large numbers. 

A young Black boy wearing a large light-colored jacket and dark pants sits on a velvet chair or ottoman. A dog that resembles a Staffordshire or pit bull terrier sits at his feet.
Young boy with dog, circa 1870.
Photograph courtesy of Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Unfortunately, the same characteristics that encouraged widespread use also encouraged a lack of record-keeping. Because they could be created in a single sitting and given to the sitter or their loved one without excessive packaging, tintypes were frequently not documented with the name of either the sitter or the photographer. This means that although there are a large number of surviving tintype images that remain today, the stories behind them have all too often been lost.

Today, most of the people Duffy photographs are not what we would regard as famous within our celebrity-driven society. Often the sitters for his images are known within their communities but perhaps not far outside of them. However, they all have stories with deep roots and stories that beg to be shared. These musicians want to be remembered, and Duffy strives to ensure they will be. His tintypes take a small step toward correcting the past by documenting the present using a method that has historically given so many underrepresented people their first opportunity to document themselves for posterity.

A dramatically lit black-and-white photo showing a white man sitting in front of some large camera equipment. In the background, you can see several stringed instruments leaning against and hanging on the wall.
Tim Duffy at work in his studio. Photograph courtesy of Music Maker Relief Foundation

Duffy’s process is not just taking a photograph – it’s also a theatrical event! Modern cameras can take hundreds of photographs in a minute. Duffy takes an hour to properly get just one photograph. Once he has his shot set up, the moment is captured instantly, and it cannot be retaken easily. In addition to the stress of getting it right on the first try, the studio itself can be intimidating. The giant camera glares at the sitter, and when combined with an extended blinding light, it can feel like the world has stopped for a moment. But these musicians do not shy away from the lenses. They are true performers and are not intimidated by the camera but rather seem to confront it and come out triumphantly.

Left: Black-and-white image of a Black woman shown from the shoulders up. She is wearing a feathered headdress with hanging pearls and beads, and she has an exuberant look on her face.
Right: A white woman with long dark hair and intense blue eyes seen from the chest up. She is wearing big circular earrings and a sparkly top/dress, and she is holding a fiddle  with a rooster's head carved on the top of its neck.
Left: Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen. Right: Martha Spencer. Photographs by Tim Duffy, courtesy of Music Maker Relief Foundation

Roots musicians connect us to the past through music by carrying on these traditions and skills. Modern tintypes do something similar by challenging our sense of time visually. Duffy bridges this gap by using one to propel the other, and in the process, he shows us a new side to both.

The Our Living Past special exhibit will be on display at the museum through September 30, 2021. We are also hosting a concert performance by Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen on Saturday, September 25 at 7:00pm.

Erika Barker is the museum’s Curatorial Manager.

Image shows the Community Case where several photographs are displayed across the back wall of the case, along with explanatory text. Four original glass-plate negatives are arranged in the base of the case, along with a small tintype.
Our summer interns Gracie and Julia created a display on historic tintypes and other examples of early photography in the museum’s Community Case. Be sure to check it out if you visit the museum!
© Birthplace of Country Music Museum; photographs on loan from Nina Rizzo

From The Vault: The 1927 Sears, Roebuck Catalogue

Want to know what’s behind our closed museum vault door? With “From the Vault,” we take you behind the scenes to learn more about some of the interesting objects in our museum collections. 

Long before the invention of the internet and being able to purchase goods online, you would have to travel to the nearest store or market to get the items you wanted, or even make them yourself. But that all changed with the introduction of mail-order shopping – and today being National Mail-Order Catalog Day makes it the perfect time to dive into that history and our collection to explore this history more!

Back in the 1800s, the railroads were hugely important in America, used for passenger travel, freight transport, and within specific industries like timber and coal. For Richard Warren Sears, the railroad was also his way of life. He worked as a railway station agent in North Redwood, Minnesota, which is also where Sears got into the merchandise industry. One day, he bought a shipment of watches after its delivery was refused by a jeweler. Sears then sold the watches to other station agents for a low price, making a profit for himself in the process. He had so much success with this initial foray into retail that he soon created his own company called R. W. Sears Watch Company.

A black-and-white portrait of a white man with dark hair and a big moustache. He is wearing a dark suit and patterned tie.
Richard Warren Sears. From Wikimedia Commons

In 1887 Sears met Alvah C. Roebuck, a watch repairman, and they moved the company to Chicago. In the same year, they also sent out their first mail-order catalog, which sold jewelry, diamonds, and of course, watches. Together in 1893, they created a new mail-order business that they called Sears, Roebuck and Company, and they began selling even more types of goods. The railroad again played a role in Sears’ business as trains, as well as the postal service’s Pony Express, helped to transport the merchandise they sold.

This advent of mail-order catalogs was transformative for customers. As the Sears, Roebuck Catalogue expanded and the goods for sale continued to grow, you could buy anything from jewelry and watches to musical instruments and houses! In 1897 – 30 years prior to the 1927 Bristol Sessions – customers could order an Edison phonograph from the Sears, Roebuck Catalogue, and the guitar that Maybelle Carter used on those Bristol recordings was also from the catalog. Besides guitars, the Sears, Roebuck Catalogue also sold violins (or fiddles), banjos, ukuleles, mouth organs (harmonicas), accordions, cornets, trombones, saxophones, trumpets, mellophones (French horns), clarinets, piccolos, flutes, drums, cymbals, triangles, tambourines, pianos, and all the accessories you could ever need for your instruments!

A catalog page for a 10-room Colonial style house showing a drawing of the front elevation of the house with manicured gardens in front. Below the drawing is a plan of both floors, along with a textual description of what can be found in the house.
An illustration and plan for a Colonial-style house for sale in the 1921 Sears Modern Homes Catalogue. Public domain image

Here at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, there is a facsimile of the 1927 Sears, Roebuck Catalogue on display in the permanent exhibits, along with other copies in the museum vault. As a museum intern this summer, I focused on the museum’s collections, which gave me the chance to thoroughly inventory the vault, and this catalog always seemed to draw me in. I grew up in the age of the internet, where you can buy everything and anything – to me, the Sears, Roebuck Catalogue seems like the past version of Amazon!

Left image: Catalog cover is red with a picture of a man and woman sitting close togethe poring over the Sears catalog in the woman's lap. A black terrier dog with a pink box is at their feet. A globe proclaims "Buy from the World's Largest Store" in the bottom left corner, and a woman's head (with a fashionable hat) and shoulders is seen in the bottom right corner.
Right image: A page with the heading Supertone Guitars shows 7 guitars of different sizes and embellishments with written descriptions and prices over most of the page, and there are then two Hawaiian-style guitars in the bottom right of the page.
Cover and instrument page from the 1927 Sears, Roebuck Catalogue. Like Maybelle, many musicians in the 1920s and 1930s got their instruments from these pages, where they could find a wide range of affordable options. Birthplace of Country Music Museum Collection

Even though the Sears, Roebuck Catalogue was discontinued before I was born, I have many memories of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents telling me about receiving these catalogs, especially right before the holidays. The Christmas holiday issue in particular – called the Sears Wishbook – would include even more products than normal, especially toys and other gifts. My relatives would always tell me that they would circle the items that they wanted, and their parents would plan their present shopping from there.

The Sears, Roebuck Catalogue is a great example of a collections item that on first glance doesn’t seem to be about music – or even history – but that connects to the 1927 Bristol Sessions story and also reveals historical and economic context to the time in which the artists from those recordings lived.

Julia Underkoffler is a senior at Shepherd University in West Virginia, majoring in Historic Preservation and Public History. She was a Birthplace of Country Music Museum intern this past summer, when she worked on the museum collections, within the museum’s frontline team, and on various other curatorial tasks.

Radio Bristol Book Club: Trampoline

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

Trampoline is the story of 15-year-old Dawn Jewell, her life with her family in eastern Kentucky, and the struggles that she faces. Dawn is sarcastic, takes issue with authority, and is laboring over the concept of who she is versus who she wants to become. So, a fairly typical teenager – but, as everyone knows, those times feel anything other than normal. Compounded by her choice to join her Mamaw’s social fight against the already economically strapped area’s main industry “Big Coal,” thus finding herself a persona-non-grata in her own town, comfort is hard to come by for our protagonist. Though Trampoline features Gipe’s perfectly complementary drawings, this is no comic book and certainly more novel than graphic. This work is written in a traditional sense that will appeal to those who relate to the setting as well as those who may be passing through. Will Dawn stay and find her way through, or choose flight over fight and abandon the mountains that need her possibly more than she needs them? Read Trampoline with us and find out!

The cover of the book is a black-and-white pen drawing showing a young girl with dissheveled hair, glasses, and a graphic t-shirt. She looks to the side.
The cover of Robert Gipe’s Trampoline with his distinctive drawing style.

Author Robert Gipe was born in Kingsport, Tennessee. He now resides in Harlan County, Kentucky, where he directed the Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College Appalachian Program (1997 to 2018). He is also a producer of the Higher Ground community performance series, has directed the Southeast Kentucky Revitalization Project, coordinated the Great Mountain Mural Mega Fest, co-produces the Hurricane Gap Community Theater Institute, and advises on It’s Good To Be Young in the Mountains, a youth-driven conference. He formerly worked for the Appalshop Art Center in Whitesburg, Kentucky, as well. In 2015 Gipe won the Weatherford Award for outstanding Appalachian novel for Trampoline, his very first novel. This volume is now accompanied by second (Weedeater, 2018) and third (Pop, ​2021) books as a series, all three of which are published by Ohio University Press.

The author is a white man with strawberry blond hair and beard. He is wearing a grey t-shirt with two green snakes in the central design and a pair of black-rimmed glasses. He is seated on some steps surrounded by potted plants, including tomatoes.
This portrait of author Robert Gipe was taken by Amelia Kirby.

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, May 27 at 12:00pm for the book discussion, which will be followed with an interview with author Robert Gipe! 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 this book’s interesting story and engaging format. And if you have thoughts or questions about this book that you would like to share with our readers, you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – and your book insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for June is Satan is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers by Charlie Louvin; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, June 24. Check out our full list of 2021 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows!

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.

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.

Radio Bristol Book Club: Where the Dead Sit Talking

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club! 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 11:00am 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!

A beautifully written Native American coming-of-age story, Where the Dead Sit Talking follows 15-year-old Sequoyah’s journey through the foster care system in rural Oklahoma in the late 1980s. Scarred by years of trauma living with a mother struggling with drug addiction, Sequoyah keeps mostly to himself in his new foster home until he meets fellow house-mate Rosemary, a 17-year-old artist. The two connect over their shared Indigenous heritage and journey through the foster care system, but the uncertainty of their living situation and the trauma that has come from that presents itself as a major hurdle the two will have to face – together or on their own.

The book cover is red with a black graphic of an eagle in the Native art style at the top of the cover and the title in white beneath it. It has a sticker on it saying "National Book Award Finalist."

The cover of Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson bears a striking Indigenous art-inspired graphic.

Author Brandon Hobson is an assistant professor of Creative Writing at New Mexico State University and a teacher at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He has three other published novels – the most recent one, The Removed, has been lauded as “a striking new benchmark for fiction about Native Americans” by the LA Times. Where the Dead Sit Talking, published in 2018, was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, winner of the In the Margins Book Award for Fiction, and an NPR Code Switch Best Book of the Year. Hobson is also an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation Tribe.

A man with dark brown hair and a short beard sits on the floor in front of a window. He is wearing glasses, a plaid/flannel shirt, and jeans. Beside his is an old typewriter on a table.
Author Brandon Hobson.

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, March 25 at 11:00am! 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 Hobson’s difficult and important story!

If you have 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) – and your insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead, we will be reading Affrilachian Tales: Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition by Lyn Ford for our April book club, airing on Thursday, April 22, 11:00am. You can see the full 2021 Radio Bristol Book Club list here.

Speaking Up! Advocate to Highlight Your Museum’s Impact on the Community, State, Nation, and Beyond

Each year the American Alliance of Museums organizes Museums Advocacy Day, an event aimed at preparing and enabling public history professionals and individuals who are passionate about museums to speak directly with their Congressional representatives about policy issues that directly affect museums. This year, the event starts today – February 22 – with several sessions focused on the issues and how to advocate, which will then be followed tomorrow by a day of Congressional meetings to talk to representatives and/or their staff about why they should support museums and their work. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole event this year will be virtual, which may seem like a disadvantage, but actually it makes speaking with elected officials and advocacy easier and more accessible. In fact, it is the first year that members of our curatorial staff have been able to attend!

But, what makes museums so important? Why should we advocate for museums? And what can you do today to support your local museum?

Why Are Museums Important?

In all probability, if you’re reading this blog post, you already have a love for museums. So I want you to think about the first time you went to a museum. Did you feel giddy with excitement and wonder as you looked in the beautiful glass cases that housed items ancient and seemingly ripped from our collective imagination? Did you tell your friends and teachers about all of the neat facts you learned and all of the cool objects you saw? Did you perhaps decide to go to your local museum’s summer camp or their other public events after this initial visit? I always come out of museums refreshed and grounded by a deeper understanding of the represented community and also a deeper understanding of myself. And then I want to see and learn more.

Photo of blond woman holding a baby and pointing at an image on the museum's wall. Both of them have expressions of wonder on their faces.

Visitors engage with the Things Come Apart special exhibit, which was featured at the museum in 2017. One good experience can lead to continued support of your museum in a variety of ways, including advocating for your mission and work. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

These feelings are not unfounded. The American Alliance of Museums has done extensive research on the impact museums have on the individual, community, education, and the economy. Here are just a few of their findings:

  • Museums support more than 726,000 American jobs.
  • Museums contribute $50 billion to the U.S. economy each year.
  • Children who visited a museum during kindergarten had higher achievement scores in reading, mathematics, and science in third grade than children who did not. Children who are most at risk for deficits and delays in achievement also see this benefit.
  • Americans view museums as one of the most important resources for educating our children and as one of the most trustworthy sources of objective information. According to a study by Indiana University, museums are considered a more reliable source of historical information than books, teachers, or even personal accounts by grandparents or other relatives.
  • In determining America’s Best Cities, Bloomberg Business Week placed the greatest weight on “leisure amenities [including density of museums], followed by educational metrics and economic metrics…then crime and air quality.”
  • More people visited an art museum, science center, historic house or site, zoo, or aquarium in 2018 than attended a professional sporting event.
  • Museums also provide many social services, including programs for children on the autism spectrum, English as a Second Language classes, and programs for adults with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairments.
  • Since 2014, more than 500 museums nationwide have facilitated more than 2.5 million museum visits for low-income Americans through the Museums for All program.

To learn more about the awesome effects of museums at the individual, communal, and global level, visit the American Alliance of Museums’ website here – it’s full of great information!

Graphic with a map of the United States on one side that includes a focal point of Washington DC and then several colored lines reaching out in different ways to symbolize reaching people and advocating. To the left is a graphic of the Capitol dome with the words Museums Advocacy Day 2021 superimposed on it, along with the dates of this years Museums Advoacacy Day.

The AAM website graphic for Museums Advocacy Day 2021.

Why Advocate?

What does it even mean to advocate? On the most basic level to advocate is to publicly recommend or support – this definition of advocate could cover everything from recommending a friend to your current employer for an open position within the organization to supporting a local artist you love by sharing their work on your social media pages. On the political level, to advocate means to actively support a change to an issue or creation of program or solution on a local, state, or federal level. Political advocacy includes emailing, writing letters to, or calling your lawmakers; voicing your opinions or sharing other calls to action on your social media pages and tagging lawmakers in those posts; or participating in or supporting advocacy or action groups who are dedicated to specific issues.

But why get involved? AAM outlines several great reasons to advocate:

  • It is your right (and duty) as an American citizen to advocate for what you believe in.
  • It can bring about policy change that will make others’ lives better.
  • You can help speak up for those who may not be able to speak for themselves.
  • It is evidence of our political system at work – it helps fulfill checks and balances on the government.
  • It underlines that you are an active member of the community – politicians may be too far removed to really understand the issues and what is going on in communities.
  • It can actually accomplish something!
Image of several buttons that state: Ask me about my museum, with the AAM logo on them.

Buttons provided by AAM for a past Museums Advocacy Day encouraged those representatives and aides met on Capitol Hill to learn about individuals and their museums. Source: https://blooloop.com/museum/news/aam-museum-advocacy-day/

Finally, remember to keep an open mind about advocacy. It is no different than an institution participating in donor cultivation – museums are community centers that preserve, celebrate, and engage a community as a whole and as such it is acceptable to share that impact and advocate for these organizations.

What Can You Do as an Individual?

So…you think museums are amazing, and hopefully now advocacy doesn’t sound so intimidating, but what are some tangible action items you can do to help your local museum on the individual, rather than the institutional, level? Again, the American Alliance of Museums has a list of do-ables to help you advocate for the museums you love:

  • Contact your Congressional representative (contact information and templates can be found here) and tell them why your local museum is important to you and your community. And don’t just look at the national level – you can also contact your state and local representatives, where your words might have even more impact.
  • Learn from others about why they advocate and what issues they think are important.
  • Make advocacy a habit, not just a one-off action.
  • Stay informed on the issues important to your community.
  • Visit your local museum to learn more about their work and their contributions to your community.
  • Ask your favorite museum or historic/cultural organization how you can help!

For more information, check out the sources used for this post:

Radio Bristol Book Club: The Devil’s Dream

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club! 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 11:00am when we will dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

The Devil’s Dream explores Appalachian culture, traditions, and family ties through the multi-generational saga of the Bailey family. Preacher’s son Moses Bailey believes that the fiddle is the voice of the devil and tries to quash his wife Kate Malone’s deep love of music. But there are some things that may be too powerful to deny… Avoiding Appalachian stereotypes, Smith tells the story – loosely based on the Carter Family – through strong characters whose voices are as distinct and as spiritual as the high lonesome sound.

Three covers of The Devil's Dream showing a woman playing guitar with a man behind here (left), an atmospheric photograph of a cabin in the woods (center), and a foggy wood with red leaves on the ground and a guitar learning against a tree (right).

The various manifestations of the cover of Lee Smith’s novel The Devil’s Dream evoke the story the book tells in different ways over the years.

Lee Smith is a native of Grundy, Virginia. She has written many novels, including the New York Times bestseller The Last Girls, along with Fair and Tender Ladies, Guests on Earth, Saving Grace, and Blue Marlin. She is a recipient of the Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the North Carolina Award for Literature, and a Southern Book Critics Circle Award.

Photograph of a woman with short blonde hair, smilling and wearing a turquoise shirt and earrings.
Lee Smith’s author photograph, taken from her official website.

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, February 25 at 11:00am! 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 this book’s interesting story, told in the Appalachian voices of the people themselves. And if you have thoughts or questions about this book that you would like to share with our readers, you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – and your book insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for March is Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, March 25. Check out our full list of 2021 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows!

Instrument Interview: The Kazoo

“Instrument Interview” posts are a chance to sit down with the instruments of traditional, country, bluegrass, and roots music – from different types of instruments to specific ones related to artists, luthiers, and songwriters – and learn more about them. Ten questions are posed, and the instruments answer! Today we mark National Kazoo Day by talking to the kazoo!

I thought kazoos were just silly party favors, but you’re an actual musical instrument?

Well, I do have a reputation as a birthday party favor, probably to the extreme annoyance of many parents! But I am so much more than that. Kazoos are membranophones, where the tonal qualities of the instrument are produced as the player hums. I am also related to mirlitons, which are vibrating membrane instruments.

A metal kazoo on a display stand within a glass case with an interpretive label in front of it with a brief text about the kazoo.

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum has a George D. Smith metal kazoo in our instrument gallery. It is on display courtesy of Kazoobie Kazoos, a plastic kazoo manufacturer in Beaufort, South Carolina. © Birthplace of Country Music

Where do you come from?

My ancestors go back to early mirlitons from Africa. They were made from cow horns or gourds, and their membranes were from spider egg silk. It must have been a tricky business to make them! These African horn-mirlitons were used for ceremonial purposes as a way to distort or mask the human voice.

Kazoo-like instruments are also known in ancient Mexico, though these looked more like recorders and the membrane was made from slivers of corn husk.

A lot of people think of the kazoo as an American instrument. How did you come about here in the States?

Different types of kazoo-like instruments, based on the African mirlitons and common in folk music, could be found in North America in the 1800s. But the kazoo as we know it is attributed to an African-American man named Alabama Vest who came up with the idea of this small instrument and then worked with Thaddeus von Glegg, a German clock manufacturer, to make his concept into reality in the 1840s.

How the kazoo went from Alabama Vest to mass production follows a couple of possible routes. The Historical Folk Toys site notes that a traveling salesman named Emil Sorg was charmed by Vest and von Glegg’s instrument, and so took the concept to create his own kazoos in New York, partnering with die-maker Michael McIntyre and starting production in 1912. McIntyre knew that to succeed, mass production was necessary and so he soon went into business with Harry Richardson, a large metal factory owner. By 1914 they were mass producing kazoos as the instrument’s popularity, and sales, skyrocketed. In 1916 their company became known as The Original American Kazoo Company, and McIntyre was awarded a patent on their kazoo in 1923. In 1994 The Original American Kazoo Company was producing 1.5 million kazoos per year! The company stayed in business until 2003, and the factory site now houses a kazoo museum.

However, the Vest-Sorg-McIntyre-Richardson kazoos were not the only ones being developed in America over this period. Another instrument – a “toy trumpet” that worked in a manner similar to the kazoo – was patented by Simon Seller in 1879. And the first instrument patented under the name “kazoo” was one created by Warren Herbert Frost – his patent was issued in 1883. However, the first metal kazoo was patented by George D. Smith in 1902.

What do you look like?

My basic shape is a tube where one end is larger and slightly flattened and the other is in the shape of a circle; both of my ends are open and uncovered. On top, I have another circular hole – known as the membrane hole – and a wax membrane can be found in the small chamber below this hole. I’ve been called “the Down South Submarine” because my shape resembles these underwater vessels.

Over the years, however, I have taken on many other shapes and forms, including being made directly in the shape of a submarine. Another example, a circa 1930 paper kazoo, was shaped like a 1920s-era microphone. Many kazoos have also been made in the shape of saxophones – Scott Paulson of the UC San Diego Library notes that “a good player could easily imitate a saxophone and create a debate: ‘kazoo or saxophone’”!

A variety of colorful plastic kazoos -- from common kazoo shapes to a pink saxophone shape to submarine/military ship shapes, to a trombone shape.

A collection of differently shaped kazoos. Courtesy UC San Diego Library

How are you played?

To play me, you should hum into the flattened opening. This makes the membrane vibrate, creating a sound that can be changed by the pitch, loudness, and nature of your humming. You can also alter the sound I make by covering the membrane hole, either in part or completely. Check out this video for a tutorial.

Many people make the mistake of blowing into me and then thinking I am broken as no sound comes out, but this will not work for creating kazoo music!

Are there any famous kazoo players or performances?

There are! Unsurpisingly you can hear the kazoo’s comic effect on Frank Zappa’s first album, Freak Out! Comb-and-paper kazoos appeared on the Beatles’ song “Lovely Rita” from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and Sir Paul McCartney played the kazoo on the 1975 Ringo Starr single “Sweet 16.” World Wrestling Federation duo Edge and Christian often brought their kazoos into the ring, driving their foes to distraction with their playing and often winning the bout as a result. Jimi Hendrix used a comb-and-paper kazoo on his 1968 recording of “Crosstown Traffic.” Kazoos – to imitate the sound of electric razors in an executive washroom – were also used in the song “I Believe in You” in the Broadway comedy How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Some performers made a career of their kazoo playing, such as Barbara Stewart who even performed at Carnegie Hall! And some composers have written their own kazoo music – for example, Mark Bucci composed his “Kazoo Concerto,” which premiered at a Leonard Bernstein Young Peoples’ Concert with the New York Philharmonic in 1960.

I’ve named just a few, but if you look for them you can find all sorts of famous kazoo performers or performances!

Were you played at the Bristol Sessions?

I sure was! Kazoos were commonly used in jug bands and comedy songs, and that is where you will find me on the 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings. Ernest Stoneman joined together with different configurations of friends and family to record several songs for Ralph Peer in 1927. One of those configurations was made up of Stoneman, Bolen Frost, George Stoneman, Iver Edwards, Kahle Brewer, and Uncle Eck Dunford to form the Blue Ridge Cornshuckers singing “Old Time Corn Shuckin,’ Parts 1 and 2.” As the song progresses, Stoneman invites each musician to introduce himself, play a little bit, and then take a sip from the passing jug!

Even though you are a light-hearted – and fun to play – instrument, do you get used for serious purposes too?

Yes, indeed, I am sometime used in speech therapy to help strengthen oral and speech skills – for instance, kazoos can help children in the production and awareness of speech. We can also be used to help speech recovery for people who have suffered a brain injury, and to help in speech production and awareness for the deaf or hard of hearing. Kazoo use can even play a role in increasing respiration and oxygenation.

Left: Three popsicle kazoos decorated with stickers and colored markers. Right: Four toilet paper roll kazoos, painted to look like different fruits.
Fun and colorful make-at-home kazoos.

How do I make my own kazoo?

There are a few ways to make your own kazoo. You can make one using popsicle sticks, a straw, and rubber bands as seen here; using a toilet paper tube and wax paper as seen here; or the classic comb-and-paper version as seen here. Get crafting!

Anything else you want to share with us?

Special thanks to Scott Paulson of the UC San Diego Library for his help with kazoo facts and photos! The Library has hosted special events around National Kazoo Day for the past few years. Starting off from a challenge to use “serious library tools to investigate a light, playful topic,” the Library’s “kazoo salute” has included exhibits, live kazoo performances, and the commissioning of original kazoo music.

Finally, the kazoo is known as “the most democratic of all instruments” because ANYONE who can hum can play it! So give me a try!

Left: A man wearing a dark suit and glasses stands behind a tabletop glass case filled with kazoos. Right: A piece of kazoo music with two kazoos superimposed on top.

Scott Paulson with a UC San Diego Library kazoo display; “Fanfare for as Many Kazoos as Possible,” an original composition by Linda Kernohan. Courtesy UC San Diego Library