Skip to Main Content

Community History, Music, & Radio in Kentucky's Cumberland Plateau

Sound Fellow, William Sears' "Community History" approach to understanding work, education, religion, and social life though the under-documented music making traditions in Knox, Whitley, Laurel, and McCreary Counties in Kentucky.

William Sears, 2007-2008 Berea Sound Fellow

Brian HarnettyWill Sears is a fiddler. At the time of his Fellowship work, he was a University of Kentucky graduate in Agriculture and Agricultural Biotechnology. Since then he has earned degrees from Johns Hopkins University in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology and the University of Louisville School of Medicine.

His interest in homemade music developed from family and community associations growing up during the 1980s and 1990s in rural Whitley County, Kentucky, about halfway between Williamsburg and Corbin. He started playing the fiddle at age twelve. Besides older fiddlers, his musical models and mentors have included singers, banjo players, and other musicians, many now up in years, who are railroad workers, farmers and public school teachers.

Sears' study in the Berea Archives was directed toward gaining an understanding of how his community's traditions of homemade music compare and contrast with those of adjacent counties and other parts of the state generally. Audio sources drew upon early commercial recordings of such groups as Walker's Corbin Ramblers and the later field recordings of Whitley County area musicians and singers made by Leonard Roberts and Loyal Jones. Work in the Archives alternated with interview and performance recording of several Whitley and nearby McCreary County musicians and singers, none of whom have been documented previously.