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.
From 2005-2016, the Sound Archives Fellowship program supported both the scholarly use of Berea's non-commercial audio / video collections and the conducting of cultural documentation projects that produced new material for future research use.
Will Sears is a fiddler and recent graduate of the University of Louisville School of Medicine. Sears also holds degrees from the University of Kentucky in Agriculture and Agricultural Biotechnology and Johns Hopkins University in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology. 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.
This collection consists of (1) home video and audio recordings and radio programs, 1950s - 1970s, and (2) video field recordings, 2008, documenting a wide range of singers and instrumentalist from Whitley, Knox, and McCreary counties, Kentucky and just over the border in Tennessee. Especially notable are performances by fiddlers Claude Harmon and Marion Pridemore, the Prichard Quartet and Melody Five Gospel groups, and numerous other local musicians on the Country Music Express radio programs. The 2008 video recordings document two finger banjoist Junior McKeehan, fiddlers J.L. Burke and Ulysses Grant "Dick" Taylor, and singers Margarette Bowlin and Jessie Martin.