With the click of a mouse, Mary Celestia Parler’s voice filled the Helen Robson Walton Reading Room at Mullins Library.
“The next, [song] is ‘Coffee Grows on White Oak Trees,’” Parler said on the recording initially made on one of the reel-to-reel recorders that she used to collect folksongs for the Arkansas Folklore Project.
Parler made the recording at a party in 1952 in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Weare in DeVall’s Bluff, Arkansas. It is included in the Ozark Folksong Collection, the largest and most complete collection of traditional music and associated materials from Arkansas and the Ozarks in the nation. The collection has recently been preserved digitally and is now available online.
The collection contains recordings of songs, tales, instrumentals, and conversations from more than 700 performers. The University of Arkansas Libraries and the Department of Special Collections recently celebrated the opening of the collection and its digital preservation with a day of festivities, including a talk by Alan Spurgeon, professor of music at the University of Mississippi, whose research often focuses on southern regional folk music.
This spring, Research Frontiers highlighted the completion of the project.
“A lot of these songs have not been written about or studied carefully,” said Spurgeon, who holds a master’s degree from the U of A. He is the author of Waltz the Hall: The American Play Party.
Here is a sampling of songs from the collection that Spurgeon included in his remarks:
Mary Jo Davis (accompanied by her sister on the guitar)
Feb. 25, 1950
May Kennedy McCord
Sept. 16, 1950
Bill and “Toby” Baker
St. Paul (Arkansas) Fall Festival
Oct. 31, 1958
Spurgeon ended by playing a version of “False Lamkin,” a song about the supernatural that he considers the “scariest” he’s ever heard (hint: it gets bloody). The performance was recorded in 1957 by Jane Robinson, one of Parler’s U of A students and recorded at the university, presumably in Old Main.
A selection of images in the Arkansas Folklore Collection can be found here.