Collection Now What a Time: Blues, Gospel, and the Fort Valley Music Festivals, 1938-1943

Noncommercial Recordings: The 1940s

  • 1940

    In the later 1930s Lawrence Gellert's field trips ended, and by 1940 the Library of Congress was less involved in field recordings in the Southeast. The only known field recordings from the Southeast during the 1940s were made at an unlikely venue at first sight--a black teachers' college in central Georgia. Fort Valley State College in Perry County, south of Macon, was actually a ...

  • 1941 and 1942

    The first festival recordings were made in 1941 by John Work from Nashville's Fisk University. The preliminary contest was held at 5:00 PM and the final took place at 7:30 PM on Thursday, March 6, with "Mr. W. C. Handy, Mr. Alan Lomax as guests." Unfortunately, Work's name was omitted from the official program, whereas Lomax did not attend. On the Friday the festival ...

  • 1943

    The 1943 festival, held on Friday, March 5, and Sunday, March 7, was again recorded. Willis James recorded AFS discs 6986 to 6993, of which the first half were of secular music. These comprised two sides by Buster Brown, a harmonica player from Cordele, three by Buz Ezell accompanied by his own guitar, one by Gus Gibson, and a rag by James Sneed's band. ...

  • 1944 and 1945

    In 1973 Pete Lowry and I made a brief search to locate survivors from these early festivals, as well as a check of Houston and Perry County death records. While we found no trace of many performers, we quickly realized how parochial these events had been. Within a few hours, we had located John Amica, Jack Hudson, and Gus Gibson still living in or ...

  • 1950 to 1955

    By the early 1950s the festival was dying. Nineteen fifty-four saw the last secular folk festival and the following year the last of sacred music. Changing attitudes among students caused it to close, for students so ridiculed folk artists that they refused to attend.13 Registration sheets exist dated Friday, March 30, 1951. Dolphus "Gus" Gibson played an "original composition," "Boogie Blues," and "Step It ...

  • Conclusion

    Thus ended a truly fascinating decade and a half of festivals at Fort Valley. Apart from a few recordings at Virginia's Hampton Institute, they constitute the only known noncommercial recordings of blues in the Southeast from the 1940s. They provide the link between pre- and postwar recordings and offer unparalleled evidence of both persistence and change in the music. With no preconceived notions--although a ...

  • Notes

    Much of this material is held by the Music Department of Fort Valley College, Georgia, and I am indebted to Bill Mathis for permission to use it. Some was published in a three-part article in Blues Unlimited 111 (December, 1974-January 1975): 11-13, 112 (March-April, 1975): 13-15, 114 (July-August, 1975): 20-21.