Southern Folklife Collection marks 25 years

Aug. 20, 2014 @ 04:19 PM

Look closely at an old preserved banjo head in the Wilson Library exhibit room and you will see signatures of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and others who were part of the civil rights movement. The piece belonged to folk singer and musicologist Guy Carawan, who is credited with helping to make “We Shall Overcome” the anthem of the movement.

The banjo head is one of the photographs, posters, journals, artifacts and other items that go on view Thursday to mark the 25th anniversary of the Southern Folklife Collection at UNC. The exhibit opening is being held in conjunction with several lectures, and performances by Rebirth Brass Band, Tift Merritt, Merle Haggard and others (see sidebar). 
The public research archive opened in 1989 to collect, preserve and promote Southern music, art and culture. The collection has grown to house more than half a million items. Originally, it had about 40,000 pieces, which grew out of the John Edwards Memorial Foundation collection, said Steve Weiss, curator of the Southern Folklife Collection.
Weiss pointed to one of the display cases which chronicles Edwards’ work. An Australian, Edwards died in 1960 in a car wreck. He was an avid collector of American country and folk music of the 1920s and 1930s, artists like the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. “He managed to amass a complete set of their records in Australia,” Weiss said.
His will stipulated that his collection not be sold but used for scholarly research. UCLA was the original keeper of the collection. A separate display case in the exhibit contains letters documenting how UNC came to acquire Edwards’ collection.
The exhibit actually has three different rooms. The main displays are in the Melba Remig Saltarelli Exhibit Room. A third-floor exhibit room houses an ongoing exhibit about Chapel Hill band Southern Culture on the Skids. A separate room off of the lobby has a photo exhibit titled “Visualizing American Roots Music.”
That portion of the exhibit alone will entice fans of music and music history. Among the photos are Daniel Coston’s black-and-white image of Johnny Cash’s last concert in 2003. A 1960 photo shows blues musician John Lee Hooker during a recording session. Other photographs show Carrboro native and folk singer Elizabeth Cotten, fiddler Benton Flippen, the 1968 edition of The Byrds (with Gram Parsons), Minnie Pearl, Gene Autry, Buck Owens and other makers of Southern music.  
The Southern Folklife Collection owns numerous recordings on the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, among them Dolly Parton’s first recording “Puppy Love.” That recording was made on the Goldband Records label, based in St. Charles, Louisiana. The Southern Folklife Collection has all the masters of that company’s recordings and is working to preserve them, Weiss said. A sample of their records is on view here.
Other material in this exhibit chronicles the folk music revival of the early 1960s. There’s an edition of Broadside, a magazine that covered folk music and, Weiss said, was the first to publish Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” This display has an edition of Broadside with the lyrics of Dylan’s “Train A Travelin’,” as well as a reel-to-reel tape box of a demo by “Blind Boy Grunt,” a pseudonym Dylan used.
Another exhibit case has three large posters. “We’ve only had a rare opportunity to exhibit these because they are so large,” Weiss said. A poster for the movie “Calypso Heat Wave” credits poet Maya Angelou for her role in the movie. Another poster advertises a bluegrass festival in Roanoke, Virginia, featuring Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys (tickets were $2.50 per day). Monroe also is featured in a poster advertising a Grand Ole Opry tour.
“A big part of American music emerged from the South. We cover the full range,” Weiss said, and the collection has country, rhythm and blues, jazz, hip-hop and more.
A symposium on the New Orleans brass band tradition will accompany Friday’s concert by Rebirth Brass Band. “It’s a chance to focus on how there are certain centers for music in the South – New Orleans and Memphis,” Weiss said. “It’s really great to be able to talk about that.”

Go and Do

WHAT: Southern Folklife Collection’s 25th anniversary exhibit
WHERE: Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill
WHEN: Opening Thursday, continuing through Jan. 15

Southern Folklife Festival schedule

Gala dinner and benefit concert, including an evening with Tift Merritt, 
Louis Round Wilson Library, 5:45 p.m. to 9 p.m. For tickets, call Liza Terll, 919-548-1203 or

-- New Orleans Brass Band symposium, parade, and concert with Rebirth Brass Band and Dumpstaphunk. Reception at 5 and symposium at 6 p.m. in the Wilson Library Pleasants Family Assembly Room. Lecture by Matt Sakakeeny, author of “Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans.” Second Line parade at 7:30 p.m. (Symposium and related events are free.)
The concert is at 8 in Memorial Hall. For tickets, visit or call 919-843-3333.

-- Cat’s Cradle will present an orchestrated full-album performances of Big Star’s “#1 Record” (1972) and “Third/Sister Lovers” (recorded in 1974-75, released in 1978). The concert begins at 9 p.m. at Cat’s Cradle, 300 E. Main St., Carrboro. For tickets, visit or call 919-967-9053.

Sierra Hull, Dex Romweber Duo and Flaco Jimenez with Los Texmaniacs will perform on Cat’s Cradle’s main stage. Authors Peter Guralnick and Holly George-Warren will give lectures in the venue’s Back Room.
Admission is free, but tickets are required. For information, visit
Here is the schedule:

-- Back Room
10 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Roundtable on the history of the Cat’s Cradle
10:45 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Holly George-Warren
11:45 a.m.–12:30 p. m. Peter Guralnick

-- Main Stage
1-1:45 p.m. Dex Romweber Duo
2-2:45 p.m. Sierra Hull
3-4 p.m. Flaco Jimenez with Los Texmaniacs

Merle Haggard and Tift Merritt, in concert, 8 p.m., Memorial Hall, UNC. For tickets, visit or call 919-843-3333.