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Berea’s Celebration of Traditional Music & African American Experience in Appalachia

Ajay Kalra, 2006 Appalachian Sound Archives Fellow, profiles and analyzes African American performers at Berea's Celebration of Traditional Music.

Folk, Fiddle & Banjo Performers

Introductory treatments of playing styles, instrumentation, and repertoire arising from Kalra’s research and related audio files are available for African American CTM performers.

Joan Salmon-Campbell

Joan Salmon-CampbellThe first woman and first African American pastor of the Arlington Presbyterain Church, Arlington, VA, the Rev. Salmon-Campbell sang three songs, two secular and a folk spiritual, at the 1977 Celebration of Traditional Music. Her style, according to the song, can vary from that of classic blues female singers (a number of whom, including Bessie Smith and Ida Cox, were born in Appalachia), as on the piano-accompanied 12-bar blues “Feel So Sad and Sorrow,” to an almost operatic style coming from her training at the Eastman School of Music as on the John Jacob Niles popularized traditional “Black is the Color” and a concert spiritual style rendition of the folk spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”

Bill Livers

Bill LiversBorn in Monterey, Owen County, Kentucky, Bill Livers was sixty when he performed at the 1975 CTM backed by the white revivalist Red Hot String Band. As have been the majority of African American performers at the CTM, he was a songster who played tunes from a wide variety of traditional and popular music genres he heard growing up. At Berea he played thirteen numbers, most with vocals, eight of which were captured on video in addition to audio tape. His music was also extensively documented by John Harrod and more than sixty additional unique recordings of Liver’s music are part of Berea’s John Harrod collection.

Perhaps more than standard old time fiddle tunes, Livers seemed to enjoy playing Tin Pan Alley and early jazz standards such as James Bland’s “In the Evening by the Moonlight,” Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen’s “Stormy Weather,” Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn’s “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,” and Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose”; country standards such as the Skillet Lickers’ favorite “Sweet Bunch of Daisies,” Jimmie Davis’s “Nobody’s Darling But Mine,” Pee Wee King’s “Tennessee Waltz” and Leon McAuliffe’s “Steel Guitar Rag.” He also did pieces that reflected variously on black-white relationships through different periods of history including “Run, Nigger, Run (The Pateroller Song)”, minstrel songs including James Bland’s “Oh Dem Golden Slippers,” and even outright derogatory songs from the late nineteenth century coon song genre such as “Big Fat Coon.”

Earl White

Earl WhiteEarl White, was living in Santa Cruz, California at the time of his 2004 CTM appearance. In 1971 he helped found the North Carolina based Appalachian dance group, The Green Grass Cloggers. White bequeathed his name to a popular syncopated dance step “The Earl,” which is still taught at clogging workshops. He started playing fiddle in 1974 and spent long periods collecting fiddle tunes in the mountains, mostly from white fiddlers who at times credited black sources for some tunes and stylistic elements. One such tune is “Riley and Spencer” which White learned from Tommy Jarrell. Others of his extensive repertoire played at Berea include “Mole in the Ground,” and “Fire On the Mountain” along with more recent old time-style tunes that do not have explicit connections with black traditions.

John "Uncle Homer" Walker

John "Uncle Homer" WalkerJohn "Uncle Homer" Walker born in Summers County, West Virginia in either 1904 or 1898, was one of the few remaining Appalachian African American banjo players performing in the later 20th century when he played at CTM in 1978. In addition to the three songs played at Berea an additional ten audio cuts of tunes and commentary by Walker may be heard as part of the Ferrum College Blue Ridge Institute recordings in the Digital Library of Appalachia