Music Monday: Black Like Appalachia

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Various Artists
Classic Appalachian Blues
Smithsonian Folkways

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.

One of my favorites, “Hoodoo Blues,” is by Martin et al., who reunited after decades apart and played the festival circuit in 1972. The melody is played slow on a fiddle, there’s mandolin and loose-and-twangy stand-up bass in the mix, and the recording catches a rowdy audience in the background. The compilation ends with a fun, danceable drinking song that Sticks McGhee recorded in 1958, topping the charts and reportedly keeping Atlantic Records from going under.

If you’re an old-time music fan, you really can’t go wrong here. And get a copy of the liner notes if you can, because half the fun is reading about who stole what riff from whom and how far their music travelled beyond the mountains they came from.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend