We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. You can start listening right away by clicking the podcast icon over on the right side of your screen. If you’d rather grab the show off itunes for later listening, click here:
We open today’s show with a look at the career of aviation giant John Paul Riddle (1901-1989), who learned to fly as a barnstormer. They were the most exciting daredevils of their day. Stunt pilots and aerialists–or barnstormers–performed almost any trick or feat with an airplane that people could imagine. During the 1920s, barnstorming became one of the most popular forms of entertainment. It was the first major form of civil aviation in the history of flight.
We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a Calendar of Events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.
It’s mid-June, and that means communities throughout Appalachia will be recognizing Decoration Day. This important tradition, symbolic of the vital place of family in Appalachian life, is usually held on a Sunday. Families gather at rural churches and cemeteries to honor the memory of deceased family members. A few days earlier, neighbors and kin gather to mow the cemetery grass, clean the graves, and prepare flowers. Homes are opened to accommodate family members returning from far and wide, communal meals are prepared, and folks gather to make a little music.
Our next segment is an overview of Old Harp, or shaped-note, singing, and its origins. “‘Singers in the Harp’ number many thousands of people through the South and West who sing religious folksongs and fuguing tunes,” says Sidney Robertson Cowell, in her liner notes for the 1951 Folkways record Old Harp Singing, featuring the Old Harp Singers of Eastern Tennessee. “They are accustomed to meet on one or two Sunday afternoons a month, to sing from one of the many collections of religious songs that were printed in shaped notes around the middle of the nineteenth century.”
We’ll wrap things up with a 1975 oral history conducted by the Southern Highlands Research Center with Dr. Mary Frances (Polly) Shuford. In 1940 Dr. Shuford founded the Shuford Colored Clinic, where the black residents of Asheville, NC could receive needed medical care. “I studied medicine because I was interested in it,” she says. “Because it was a challenge, and I wanted to know. It wasn’t striking out for woman’s liberation at all, not at all.”
And, thanks to the good folks at the Berea College Library Department of Special Collections and Archives, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music by Curley Bradshaw in a 1939 recording of Train Blues.
So, call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corn-cob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian History.