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Music of Appalachia

It is most curious that a relatively small, rural region in the Southern Appalachian Mountains has had so much influence on the music listened to by such a large segment of this nation's people, and indeed by people from throughout much of the world. This story is colorful, fascinating and purely American; and it reveals much, not only about how these resourceful and ingenious folk imparted their music to other sections of the country, but it also presents important revelations as to how they have contributed greatly to the general economic, industrial, and agricultural development of a nation.

How was it that people dealt with the isolation of the lonely plains of the Midwest, the drudgery of the coal mines, the tedium of a 72-hour work week in the cotton mills in the South, and the relentlessness of housekeeping, coupled with the sheer poverty endured by so many Americans? I submit that music, singing and playing music, was a powerful and constant companion which served to lend hope, joy, solace, and even exhilaration to these souls, lightening their burden, and spreading happiness along the way. It had inestimatable psychological and therapeutic effects. But in order to understand this, one must realize that much old-time music totally moved people; it inspired them because they drank it in. It was all consuming, and some people literally would rather hear it than to eat. It carried with it emotion and power that can no more be explained in words than one can convey the feeling one experiences with the birth of a first child. My father sometimes described the effect of hearing an old fiddle tune, expertly played, by saying: "It would make the hair stand up on the back of your neck." People carried it with them in their workplace, they hummed the old tunes or sang fragments of old songs, they "listened" to it in their minds as they toiled, and they were happy. The individual result was a greater work day, and collectively it contributed to a greater nation.

That which started largely with old-time English, Scottish, and Irish ballads being sung and played by the fireside in mountain cabins of Southern Appalachia evolved, in a relatively short time, into the present-day country music phenomenon.

Excerpt from the book "A People And Their Music" by John Rice Irwin

The Museum of Appalachia has an extensive collection of musical instruments and music related artifacts in our collection. Some related to nationally known musicians, others which belonged to some of the poorest unknowns of the region. Hand made from any materials available to them. They are a testament to the resourcefulness of the people and their need for music.



Museum of Appalachia P.O. Box 1189, Norris, TN 37716  museum@museumofappalachia.org