Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Meeting Arthur Johnson and being a member of the Appalachian Semester Panel
In the early 1970’s , I think it was 1971, Julian Mosley the Director of the Appalachian Semester at Union College in Barbourville Kentucky ask me to be on a panel with Arthur Johnson and Julia Ann Fleming.
(This was about the time that the of Berea’s First http://flickr.com/photos/adcreech/2623380162/ Appalachian Music Symposium was held as well. Dr. Gary English asked Glenn Lawson, Dean Louie Smith and I go out to Indian Fort Theater and do some photos for the promotion of an Appalachian Music Symposium beginnings which were little more than a concert of local entertainers at Phelps Stokes Chapel. Later it became a multi-day more scholarly approach of traditional music. This was my innatial introduction to Glenn who became a wonderful friend and band mate for the remainder of our time in college. At that point Glenn was playing a 12 string guitar with a big Peace Symbol on it and we didn‘t know if for some time but Dean Smith didn‘t play the fiddle, it was one he just bought somewhere and it was a joke having him
look as if he was playing. Dean Louie Smith was one of the most beloved members of the Berea College Community)
Julia Ann who was a musicologist and working on an advanced degree at Indiana University and Arthur who was a living, breathing and walking encyclopedia of traditional music from the mountains. I was to add a Bluegrass perspective to the group. Our sessions were always held on a Friday.
The original format was two morning sessions, two afternoon sessions and an evening performance. It was a very informal atmosphere with the 3 of us sitting on a corner couch and chair and with students either sitting on the floor or in folding chairs.
The morning usually began with Julia Ann or Arthur with either a dulcimer or guitar accompanied song and that would lead to a lively interchange of facts and questions. a discussion of music and its role through the ages, music from the British Isles, Child Ballads, Broadsides, early collectors like Cecil Sharp were usually a good area of discussion. http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/sharp.htm
As the day progressed, the discussion moved into the role of music in the daily life of the pioneers, immigration patterns of people and how traditions were maintained and evolved, the various schools of thought of the origin of the dulcimer, early commercial entertainers on the radio such as the Carter Family, The Monroe Brothers, Early Radio Programs, like Farm and Fun Time, WSL Barn Dance, WSM Grand Ole Opry, The Renfro Valley Barn Dance then on into early country entertainers, then known as hillbilly musicians.
We would talk about the music for a while then someone would sing or play an example.
I learned a lot. Most of the information I knew was from early (commercial) country music. I had been a member of a the Berea Country Dancer’s http://www.berea.edu/peh/dance/countrydancers.asp a folk dance troupe that did all sorts of Folk Dances from around the world and had heard of Cecil Sharpe. I don’t mind telling you that I felt totally out of my element the first morning, but as the day progressed Arthur in his folksy way brought me around. He has a wonderful and sensitive approach to the music and its people and I’ve never felt out of place around him since then.
After the first year Julian left Union College and Sherman Oxendine took over the Appalachian Semester. Sherman was a wonderful warm individual that always reminded me of my Uncle Eustace. Easy going and so appreciative of all that we did at Union College. It was during the time that Sherman was the Director of the Appalachian Semester that it really blossomed. After a few years it was only Arthur and I doing the sessions. We kept the same format as before with Arthur filling in on the things that Julia had talked about in previous years.
Sherman arranged for us to visit to the local radio station WYWY during the noon hour while folks were eating their lunch which provided a great opportunity to invite the community to the evening concert. Soon our audience grew so large we had to move from the multi-purpose room to the Little Theater there at Union College.
We had a number of wonderful students as well as local entertainers that always came and was a part of the program. I can remember Doc (and my mind goes blank of his last name) and his Full Gospel Banjo Band who always had request for “The Cat Came Back“ , The Phipps Family who did wonderful Original Carter Family Music. There were many, many others which escape me now, but those evenings were a wonderful and magical example of the power of music.
The evening sessions were always well attended by the community.
When Sherman retired in 1984 the format of The Appalachian Semester Traditional Music Symposium remained but 1985 was the last year that I participated. Since then Arthur and I have performed many times. He came to Alice Lloyd College for a couple of performances while I worked there and did convocations of which I had the honor to play with him on and for the past several years he had graciously joined us at Our Appalachia Day at Alice Lloyd College.
For some of Arthurs music http://cdm272901.cdmhost.com/cdm/search/collection/p15131coll4/searchterm/Harlan%20County,%20Kentucky/field/all/mode/exact/conn/and/order/subjec
Arthur Johnson is a wonderful entertainer and great friend.