New Grants to Help Preserve Southern Music, Films

Recorded interviews and performances by Southern traditional musicians including Ralph Stanley, Doc Watson and Elizabeth Cotton will be available free next year to library visitors at Carolina.

Staff at UNC’s Wilson Library also soon will preserve amateur films shot in Florence, S.C., in the 1920s, showing scenes of social gatherings, plantations and local families and giving a sense of what life was like in the South at that time.

The projects are funded by new grants of $138,275 from the National Endowment for the Humanities and $6,000 from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

The library’s Southern Folklife Collection will use the first grant to preserve and make accessible 2,350 hours of unique and endangered musical recordings. Upon the project’s estimated completion in July 2009, researchers will have free on-site access to the sounds of Stanley and others.

The project also includes live recordings made between 1970 and 2000 at the Ole Time Fiddler’s & Bluegrass Festival at Fiddler’s Grove in Union Grove and WPAQ radio broadcasts from the collection of the late Ralph D. Epperson, who founded the Mt. Airy station in 1948.

“These recordings are part of the tremendous collections that make UNC one of the premier repositories for the study of Southern traditional music,” said Steve Weiss, head of the folklife collection.

The Southern Historical Collection, also in Wilson Library, will preserve the films: three 16-millimeter black and white amateur films shot in and around Florence in the late 1920s by Harry Lee Harllee (1876-1952).

Harllee, a naturalist, ornithologist and taxidermist, founded the Harllee Natural History Museum in Florence. He also established Harllee Quattlebaum Construction there, now Quattlebaum Development Co. of Charleston, S.C.

The footage includes scenes of the Harllee and Quattlebaum families and the natural environment. The films provide a window into a waning culture and its customs as well as a rare view of the region’s flora and fauna in the early 20th century, said Stephanie Stewart, moving-image archivist in the library.

The films are expected to be available to the public in August 2009.

Related coverage is available online:

  • Wilson Library to Exhibit ’60s Photos of Musicians, U.S.
    August 2006 news report
  • Listening to a Lost Time: First, there’s static. Then the voices emerge, as if from a distance. The slender, soft wax cylinders in Wilson Library hold records of a past that, until last fall, could be only imagined. Now they’re being heard.
    From the July/August 2001 issue of the Carolina Alumni Review, available online to GAA members.

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