The digital Ozark Folksong Collection at the University of Arkansas officially “opens” today, Friday, August 28th! It’s the “largest and most complete collection of traditional music and associated materials from Arkansas and the Ozarks” in the U.S., and includes “recordings of songs, tales, instrumentals, and conversations from over 700 performers” collected between 1949 and 1965. Almost four thousand of the more than 4,500 audio recordings have searchable transcriptions of lyrics. Search by song titles, performer, performance locations, instrumentation, genre (fiddle tunes, play parties, square dances, regional versions of early commercial recordings, songs written by indigenous performers), or just keywords.
The recordings and accompanying materials cover topics such as politics, regional conflicts and discord, emotional bonds and relationships both within and outside the family, and the changing roles of family members. Hymns and other church songs document important religious beliefs of that era. The songs cover a range of topics in a number of languages and include traditional songs of English and Scottish origins; event ballads unique to the region—such as “The Brinkley Storm” about a killer tornado in that small Arkansas town; more than 120 songs and tales from the African American tradition; recordings in Cherokee of Christian hymns; songs provided by immigrants to an Ozark wine-making community; twelve songs of migrant workers, and other songs from Italian, Polish, Lithuanian, Swiss, and French traditions. The collection contains many unique or hard-to-find songs, including “Bessie Dye,” “Dogs and Her Gun,” and “The Olde and Fading Picture.”
“My Grandmother’s Advice,” for example, is actually in the collection sung by more than one performer. In this case, Fred Smith said that he learned it from his mother when he was a small boy in Wisconsin!