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With its rich music and culture, the Ozarks area is probably the most-studied region of the state. A small selection of a large collection of mainly Ozark Arkansas folksongs has been put on a two-disc box set coming out of Fayetteville.
The “Anthology of Arkansas Folksongs” features 57 of the approximately 4,000 performances found in the Mary C. Parler Archive of Arkansas Folk Music. Professor Mary Celestia Parler and her assistants recorded at least 600 Arkansas instrumentalists and singers from 1949 through 1965, with an emphasis on the Ozarks. The box set was edited by Alan Spurgeon, Rachel Reynolds and Bob Cochran, and issued by Fayetteville’s Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies.
Parler’s model in collecting the performances was folklorist Vance Randolph, who had been studying Ozark folkways for years, and whose masterwork four-volume “Ozark Folk Songs” was gaining notice as Parler started her recording work.
Parler’s collection is maintained by the Special Collections Division of the University of Arkansas Library at Fayetteville.
Disc one opens with “Arkansas Boarding House,” recorded in 1960 in Benton. The song is performed by Charles Mayo, music minister of First Baptist Church in Benton. Mayo said he learned the song from his father, C.R. Mayo. “I don’t know where he learned it,” he says, “and never heard it anyplace except when he sang it.”
So-called “play-party” songs also appear on the “Anthology of Arkansas Folksongs.” Play-party songs date from frontier times and were a way for young people to entertain themselves and interact with the opposite sex. Aleta Garrison Jessup recorded one, “Marching Round the Levee,” in Little Rock in 1959.
Columbus Vaughn was recorded in Wayton in 1954. Vaughn was a teacher at Deer High School in Newton County. His “There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea” is a well-known campfire song.
A 1963 recording from an unknown location features Bailey Dansey, one of many tantalizing characters from the collection. Little is known of Dansey. Identified only as a “blind Negro midget from southeast Arkansas,” Dansey’s bluesy song is called “Gabriel Blows His Silver Trumpet.”
Others of note appear on disc one, including Ronnie Hawkins of St. Paul, Cleburne County native Almeda Riddle and Jimmie “Driftwood” Morris and Ollie Gilbert, both of Timbo. Booth Campbell, who dressed in a Confederate Army uniform, was a well-known performer at folk festivals, and contributes “State of Arkansas,” recorded in Cane Hill. Folklorist Vance Randolph collected five different versions of “State of Arkansas.”
The song recounts an outsider’s awful time in the state, working draining land near Fort Smith. First, Little Rock gives “his heart a shock” for unnamed reasons; by the end, he’s “going to the Indian nation and marry me a squaw,” rather than return to the state.
Booth Campbell’s version was recorded 1950. Campbell died six years later at age 84. His is just one of 31 songs from disc one of the “Anthology of Arkansas Folksongs.”
Next week: Disc two.
• “State of Arkansas”
• “Arkansas Boarding House”
• “Gabriel Blows His Silver Trumpet”
• “Marching Round the Levee”
“There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea”
• “Jenny for Jenny”