Music Monday: Black Like Appalachia
New Smithsonian collection highlights role of African Americans in the old-time country tradition.
Classic Appalachian Blues
These 21 tracks, part of Smithsonian Folkways' compilation series, include blues greats like Archie Edwards, Pink Anderson, and Etta Baker. The collection draws exclusively from artists who learned their trade in the Southern Appalachians. Some, like Martin, Bogan & Armstrong—a black string band who toured the region on foot—and Peg Leg Sam Jackson who learned his mean harmonica from decades with an itinerant medicine show.
The recordings cover a period from 1948 to 1977; the later ones being mostly performances at the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife, a pillar of the national folk revival, which unfolded toward the end of these artists' lives.
According to the 36 pages of history-packed liner notes, the disc "dispels the notion that Appalachian music is limited to country performed by white men and women, and that blues is unique to black musicians of the Mississippi Delta region...The Appalachian blues tradition is far more integrated than Delta or Texas blues." Mining and lumber industries brought people of various ethnicities to Appalachia, resulting in a unique musical permutation. It's not entirely old-time country, folk, or deep Southern blues, but includes elements of all three.