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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second part of a column on the “Anthology of Arkansas Folksongs” and discusses the second of the two-disc set. The set is $25 and may be ordered from the Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies. Call 479-575-7708 for information.
The “Anthology of Arkansas Folksongs” is an annotated two-CD set packed with dozens of artists and songs — but it still represents less than 1.5 percent of the collection from which it’s drawn. The anthology, released by the Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies, features part of the approximately 4,000 performances found in the Mary C. Parler Archive of Arkansas Folk Music, which is housed in the Special Collections Division of the University of Arkansas Library in Fayetteville.
The box set was edited by Alan Spurgeon, Rachel Reynolds and Bob Cochran. From 1949 through 1965, Professor Mary Celestia Parler and her assistants recorded hundreds of Arkansas instrumentalists and singers.
Cochran admits the focus on the Ozark recordings from the Parler Archive for the box set “may exceed that of the whole archive.” In fact, two songs from rural Missouri even show on disc two. But, Cochran said, “it is an enormous collection, still underutilized.”
“My Home in Arkansas,” also known as “My Happy Little Home in Arkansas,” was recorded 1950 in Farmington (Washington County) with performer Doney Hammontree:
“Come and see me neighbor, come along/I’ll be there to greet you one and all/ ’Tis the finest country found/And I’ll show you all around/At my happy little home in Arkansas;
“We’ll go out on the mountain and we’ll see the mineral springs/Go and see the big plantation down below/Show you cotton, show you cane, show you every kind of grain/At my happy little home in Arkansas.”
Hammontree, born in 1876, contributed an impressive 73 songs to the Parler Archive.
There are moments from other parts of the state as well. Disc two of the set opens with “The Brinkley Storm,” by Zula Crymes of DeValls Bluff, identified as “Mrs. Jim Crymes.” The song recounts an actual East Arkansas cyclone of March 8, 1909, that killed 35 people in Brinkley alone. Crymes sang the song from a ballad book that belonged to her uncle, Dalton Williams of Des Arc.
Reportedly, Parler would turn off her tape recorder when performers would attempt to play what she termed “hillbilly junk.” But the Parler Archive of Arkansas Folk Music itself is still fairly inclusive. There are Baptist hymns sung in Cherokee as well as songs that had been commercial hits, including by such well-known “hillbillies” as the Carter Family. “Steamboat Bill,” performed by a student in Mary Parler’s class, was a hit in 1910, although student Warren Walker’s performance of “Steamboat Bill” came from 1960 in Fayetteville.
In another recording, a student of Parler’s was on the other side of the microphone. John Logan of Burdette in Mississippi County recorded A.D. Robinson in Burdette performing “Cotton Picking Blues.”
Further displaying the Parler Archive’s eclecticism, the Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies also has released a gospel-themed album from the archive, titled “While I Run This Race.”
But even with the gospel disc and the “Anthology of Arkansas Folksongs” set, there is still much from the Parler Archive the public has yet to hear.
• “Steamboat Bill,” Warren Walker
• “Cotton Picking Blues,” A.D. Robinson
• “The Brinkley Storm,” Zula Crymes
“My Home in Arkansas,” Doney Hammontree