Thursday, October 29, 2009

Brown Enters Sinister “Phase II of Operation”

I think I am done gathering sources. I have way more than I can read already, and some of it extremely interesting. Through ILL I was able to get a copy of the “Black Music Research Journal” with an article by Paul F. Wells called “Fiddling as an Avenue of Black-White Musical Interchange.” This article is very important for me to read because it is, in effect, the article I wish I could write. It was published in 2003, so it is not too old, and cites a great many sources, so it should completely fill me in on what is already in the scholarship on this subject. There is a great quote in the article from a 1973 interview with Charles Wolfe of Kentucky fiddler Richard Burnett, who was born in1883. Wolfe asked Burnett about whether many blacks played old-time music when he was young:
Oh yeah. Yeah. Bled Coffey here in town [Monticello, Kentucky], he was a fiddler during the Civil War, and the Bertram boys here, Cooge Bertram was a good fiddler. He was raised in Corbin [Kentucky]. Yes sir, there were a lot of black men playin’ old time music. Bled Coffey was the best fiddler in the county. Been dead for years. I played many a tune with him—used to play with me, oh, sixty year ago. He’d play any o’ the old songs that I did. The old-fashioned tunes, like “Cripple Creek,” “Sourwood Mountain,” “Soldier’s Joy,” “Fire on the Mountain―them old-fashioned tunes is about what he played. (Quoted in Wolfe 1973, 7)1

This is exactly the kind of information I was looking for, and Wells and Wolfe got to it way before me. But that’s okay. I am thankful to have their work to learn from, and I hope, to build on or at least to synthesize with what I am getting from some of the other fantastic sources I’ve gotten through ILL, such as “the Birth of the Banjo: Joel Walker Sweeney and Early Minstrelsy” by Bob Carlin, the fascinating story of one of the first well-known white banjo players, who learned the instrument from slaves.

I also still have three or four interviews to do, which I will start over the weekend. I’m very excited and less intimidated every week. This seems doable! I will now turn to my document, edit the bibliography to reflect these new sources, and begin to add some headings; some kind of break-down of the different sections I want to go on about. I will print out the first draft of my paper, such as it is, for the perusal and criticism of my illustrious professor. I am thankful for the opportunity to get everything right as I’m doing it, rather than waiting to hand in a draft when the whole thing is already done. Tally Ho!


Wells, Paul F. “Fiddling as an Avenue of Black-White Interchange,” Black Music Research
Journal Spring/Fall (2003) 135-147.

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