Early Traditional Music and the Museum
Music was an important part of pioneer life and therefore is an integral part of the Museum. Prominent performers may be found somewhere in the settlement almost every day and Carlock Stooksbury and the Museum of Appalachia Band perform for visitors at the museum throughout the year.
But for John Rice Irwin, himself an accomplished writer and mandolin player, there is much more. If you happen to be driving on Interstate 75 through the beautiful East Tennessee hills a bit north of Knoxville on a fall weekend in October, you may be fortunate enough to join a gathering that has become known world-wide - The Museum of Appalachia Tennessee Fall Homecoming. Since 1980, Irwin has played host to literally thousands who come from far and wide to take part in a ritual celebrating the arts, crafts, and music of the Southern Appalachian mountains.The homecoming is a culmination of the year-round programs that have become a staple for those with an interest in preserving and maintaining the culture and past history of the region.
This special event brings together a large music festival with other activities highlighting the various aspects of the Museum. Performances always include a large number of bluegrass legends along with the luminaries of old-time Appalachian music. Fiddlers, buck dancers, gospel singers and old-time musicians are in great supply as the Museum celebrates the heritage and culture of Southern Appalachia in music.
The Tennessee Fall Homecoming began in 1980 when George Brose, then representing The Council of Southern Mountains bookstore in Berea, KY, called Irwin to ask permission to bring his motorized van of specialty books to the museum for the weekend. Fearing low attendance for the event, Irwin requested that local musicians show up to help bring in the crowd.
In addition to the musicians, it was arranged to have the annual molasses making with a mule powered grinding mill. Artisans making white oak baskets, grinding corn, splitting rail fences and roof shingles were also eager to join. Eventually, and over the years, butter churning, Kentucky rifle firing, dulcimer making, spinning and weaving, chair bottoming, corn shuck doll making, and dozens of other old-time crafts and mountain activities were added.
It would be difficult to overemphasize the contributions of old-time and bluegrass musicians to the event. The listings are like a 'Who's Who' of old-time and bluegrass music. Roy Acuff grew up a few miles from the museum and several members of his 'Smoky Mountain Boys' have performed at the Fall Homecoming - including Bashful Brother Oswald, Charlie Collins, and Larry McNeely. Other noted performers include members of the Carter Family - Janette and Joe Carter.
John Hartford has long been associated with the event as were the late Grandpa Jones and Archie Campbell. Noted folklorist Mike Seeger and traditional banjoist LeRoy Troy have also added to many programs.
Probably the strongest emphasis of the Fall Homecoming - music wise - is the large number of Southern Appalachian musicians that play and maintain an authentic style of music that has been handed down and nourished through the generations. Folks such as Fiddlin' Frazier Moss, Will Keys, noted banjoist, the late Red Rector, the Morgans - including noted instrument authority Tom Morgan, - the Lantana Drifters, Minnie Black and Her All Gourd Band, The Cumberland Mountain Singers, Blanche Cornett, Jim Costa, The Smoky Mountain Express, Homer Harris (the Seven Foot Smiling Cowboy), and The Duck Creek Quartet have shared the performing areas over the years.
Many noted bluegrass performers have brought their music to the Museum of Appalachia. These include Bill Monroe, Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, Doyle Lawson and Quick Silver, Raymond Fairchild, Mac Wiseman, Kenny Baker, Josh Graves, Red Rector - and the list goes on. The Appalachian region is well-represented by many of the roots of bluegrass groups - including Monroe and Stanley. But it does not stop there. In the Hall of Fame at the museum are several collections honoring pioneers such as Monroe, Red Rector, Raymond Fairchild, and Cas Walker.
The name Cas Walker is known well by bluegrass historians. He was a long-time influence on the authentic East Tennessee music scene. For many years, he sponsored programs on stations such as WROL radio and WBIR-TV. At one time or another, it seems that all the early bluegrass and country music pioneers appeared on these East Tennessee radio and tv programs. Performers as diverse as Tennessee Ernie Ford, the Everly Brothers, the Osborne Brothers and Dolly Parton were involved in these productions. One local historian points out that a total of 247 musical performers were involved in those programs over the many years.
Mr. Walker loved to visit the museum and talk about the early days in Knoxville. A special exhibit commemorates his influence in the area.
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