John Lair Papers and The John Lair - Renfro Valley Barn Dance Oral History Collections
The John Lair Papers are the papers of John Lee Lair, pioneer country music broadcaster, music collector, and community historian. They consist mainly of business correspondence, mail from radio listeners, photographs, radio program scripts, and broadcast recordings. Included in the collection are printed promotional material, news clippings, performer repertoire lists, oral history transcripts, and audio-visual materials.
The John Lair - Renfro Valley Barn Dance Oral History Collection includes a series of thirty audio recorded interviews with performers and others who were associated with the Renfro Valley Barn Dance and other radio programs produced by John Lair, first in Cincinnati, Ohio and later in Renfro Valley, Kentucky, 1937 through much of the 1950s. Most of the interviews were conducted during the period 1994-1999, by Hutchins Library Sound Archivist, Harry Rice. Additional interviews in the collection were conducted at various earlier times by Loyal Jones, Wayne Daniels, and Reuben Powell.
Jim Carrier / Madison, Wisconsin / 2008-2009 Fellow / Topic: Music - Banjo
Project: Jim Carrier is a longtime journalist who is currently writing a documentary script on the racial history of the banjo. Jim's Music Fellowship work will focus on banjo history, music and styles played by black and white individuals and bands in Appalachia. His study will utilize the Buell Kazee, John Lair, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, John F. Smith, Jeff Titon and D.K. Wilgus collections. Jim and Bill Evans, an ethnomusicologist and professional banjo player, are proposing a 90-minute film to PBS. Evans and Rhiannon Giddens, an African American banjo player currently with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, will serve as film co-hosts who retrace their personal journeys of discovery into the history of the banjo. The documentary will include filming in Africa, explore the various branches of the banjo family, and deal forthrightly with the racial issues that the banjo accompanied.
Helen Gubbins / Limerick, Ireland / 2007-2008 / Topic: Radio Programs
Project: Helen is an Irish traditional musician (button accordion, tin-whistle & singing) with a strong interest in the historical relationship of traditional music to the mass media, especially radio. Her Masters of Philosophy thesis at University College Cork, entitled "Shortwaves, Acetates and Journeyworks," concentrates on the transmission of Irish traditional music by Radio Éireann (Irish public radio) from 1926-1960. On previous U.S. visits, she served as artist-in-residence, teaching and performing in Columbia, Missouri, and throughout the midwest.
Her work in the Berea Archives will generally be directed toward widening her research focus to include the historical relationship of radio to traditional music of the American south. Specifically, she will explore Berea’s extensive music related broadcast audio and manuscript material in the John Lair, Reuben Powell, Bradley Kincaid, and WHAS collections. Of particular concern will be how radio music programming represented musical identities in Appalachia, and the interaction of radio stations and local music community, formulating a more complete history of traditional music programming on WHAS and other Kentucky stations. Helen will share her research findings through a conference paper (Winter 2008), a scholarly article (Spring 2009), a website presenting collated radio programming information from the Berea archives, and an audio documentary to be submitted for broadcast to public radio in the U.S. and Ireland.
Kevin Kehrberg / Lexington, Kentucky / 2006-2007 / Topics: Hymns and Sermons; Radio Programs
Project: Kevin is currently a doctoral candidate in musicology at the University of Kentucky where his Masters thesis focused on the gospel quartet recordings of Bluegrass music pioneer, Bill Monroe. He has written about Bluegrass music vocal styles and presented papers at scholarly meetings including the Society of American Music. As a bassist he has performed on stage, television, and recordings with such traditional musicians as Art Stamper, Lee Sexton, Jean Ritchie, and Curley Seckler. Beginning in June, his Fellowship work at Berea will focus on analyzing the performing styles and repertoires of the various gospel quartets documented in Berea’s radio program collections especially those of John Lair’s Renfro Valley Gatherin’ and other programs aired in the 1940s and 1950s. His efforts will be directed at understanding stylistic similarities and differences within a concentrated region and developing a more complete account of sacred music’s role in the radio programming, gospel quartet contests, and annual all-night gospel singing events produced by John Lair.
Jacob Podber / Carbondale, Illinois / 2008-2009 / Topic: Radio Programs
Project: Jacob Podber is an Associate Professor in the Radio and Television Department at Southern Illinois University. Jacob's Music Fellowship work will be a continuance of research on the importance of Country music radio programming and how Appalachian music on the radio (and later television) helped contribute to the regions Identity. His study will utilize several portions of the John Lair Collection and the Renfro Valley Barn Dance Oral History Collection. His several years of research to date have resulted in his book, The Electronic Front Porch: An Oral History of the Arrival of Modern Media in Rural Appalachia and the Melugeon Community.