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American Folklife Center Collections: Kentucky

This guide provides access to ethnographic resources documenting expressive culture in the state of Kentucky at the Library of Congress.


Archie Green. "Mary Magdalene Garland Jackson Stamos" (image 55). Pictured above is page one of an obituary from the Kentucky Folklore Record, Volume VII, number 4, 1961, with a photo of Aunt Molly Jackson (Stamos). This image is part of a group of research materials collected by Alan Lomax (Alan Lomax Collection, Manuscripts, Big Ballad Book. 1961-1991). Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

American Folklife Center collections from Kentucky contain rich and varied materials that document the diversity of the Bluegrass State's folk traditions. Among its unique recordings are hundreds of hours of folk music, recorded from the 1930s to the present, including banjo, dulcimer, and fiddle tunes; religious music and sermons; and Southern Harmony singing and Baptist "lining-out" hymns.

The Lomax Kentucky Collection

These are documentary sound recordings of rural Kentucky music and lore collected under the auspices of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress between 1933 and 1942 and bring together several American Folklife Center collections. Performed by farmers, laborers, coal miners, preachers, housewives, public officials, soldiers, grandparents, adolescents, and itinerant musicians, the recordings present a full spectrum of traditional expressive culture from twelve of Eastern Kentucky’s mountain counties: ballads and lyric songs, play-party ditties and comic pieces, topical and protest material, fiddle and banjo tunes, hymns and sacred songs, children's games and lullabies, and a variety of spoken lore—religious testimonies, occupational reminiscences, tall tales, jokes, and family and personal narratives.

The earliest recordings were made in Harlan County by John A. Lomax and his son Alan in 1933; John returned alone, in 1937, to make recordings of American Folk Song Festival performers at the Boyd County home of Festival organizer Jean Thomas. The largest collection was the result of a two-and-a-half-month trip through ten counties made in the autumn of 1937 by Alan and his wife Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold. Several months later, in early 1938, the couple made recordings of enlisted men in the Tenth Infantry Division at Fort Thomas in Northern Kentucky, and of Whitley County native Pete Steele and his family, who were living and working in Hamilton, Ohio. Columbia University professor Mary Elizabeth Barnicle—with whom Alan Lomax had collaborated on field-trips in Florida, Georgia, and the Bahamas in 1935—made an extensive canvas of Bell County in 1938. Also included here are recordings made in New York City (by Alan Lomax and Mary Barnicle) and Connecticut (by John A. Lomax) of Bell and Harlan County union activists Jim Garland, Sarah Ogan Gunning, and Aunt Molly Jackson, who had recently relocated north.

The manuscripts related to Alan Lomax's recording trips to Kentucky have been made available on the Library of Congress site separately as part of the Alan Lomax Collection, Manuscripts. The group of Alan Lomax's research materials for a book, from which the page pictured above is taken, includes the full issue of the Kentucky Folklore Record, Volume VII, number 4, 1961 that memorializes Aunt Molly Jackson and includes a tribute to her by Alan Lomax. More on Kentucky can be found in this collection with a search on Kentucky. Correspondence from Aunt Molly Jackson written while she lived in New York can be found with a search on her name.

Additional Collections of Interest

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.

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Dale Ann Bradley was born and raised in the coal fields of Kentucky. She fell in love with bluegrass music as an early teen and was determined to pursue her dreams.  She first played with a regional band called Backporch Grass. After being contracted to perform at the Renfro Valley Barndance in Renfro Valley, Kentucky, she became part of the leading Bluegrass band The New Coon Creek Girls, and began recording and traveling extensively. In 1997, she began leading the “Dale Ann Bradley Band,” with whom she has recorded seven albums. Dale Ann writes songs about her upbringing, combining many genres of music, including country and gospel. Library of Congress, December 7, 2016.

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