Alabama Folkways Radio Program Descriptions
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The work calls, sung by the black section crews who maintained the railroad tracks, disappeared when the men were replaced by mechanical track-lining equipment. However, the songs and special lore of the railroad lives on in The memories of these retired gandy dancers. Folklorist Dr. Maggie Holtzberg interviewed a number of these men and organized a gathering where they re-enacted the calls that had synchronized their work. Recordings from the event, combined with interviews, document a range of religious, political and artistic expression m the calls of Cornelius Wright (past away 1996), John Cole (past away 1992), Abraham Parker and John Henry Mealing.
Baldwin County Polka Band.
At the turn of the century a Czech community established itself in Baldwin County where children attended a Czech school on the weekends in order to preserve the language, music and dances of their homeland, It was in this setting that Clara Prochaska learned the polka. She and her family formed the Baldwin County Polka Band in 1977 and still perform for weddings and festivals on the Gulf Coast. Her late husband Frank Prochaska hosted a popular weekly radio show called "The Polka Party" on WHEP in Foley for 27 years. Recordings of Frank Prochaska's show, the music of the Baldwin County Polka band and interviews with Clara Prochaska and her children create a picture of Czech culture in a South Alabama community. Note: The band as described above no longer performs.
Jerry and Sandra Brown operate a traditional stoneware pottery shop in Hamilton, Alabama. Jerry is a descendent of the famous Brown family, makers of folk pottery in the Southern United States since the late 18th century. Brown explains the pottery making process from digging the clay to firing the wares in his groundhog kiln.
Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers.
Singing master Japheth Jackson (passed 2010) and Dewey Williams (passed away 1997) provide the leadership for a small but active group of black shape-note singers in the Wiregrass region. Mr. Jackson, Mr. Williams and his daughter Bernice Harvey tell of the meaing and life long importance of this music for 'singing praises unto God."
Nora Ezell is one of Alabama's most celebrated African-American quilters, receiving both the Alabama Folk Heritage Award and the National Endowment for the Arts' National Heritage Fellowship, the state's and the nation's highest honors for the traditional arts. Mrs. Ezell discusses The development of her work from the utilitarian, scrap quilts she learned to make out of necessity, to her commissioned story quilts depicting the people, places and history of Alabama, including her famous Martin Luther King, Jr. quilt, Civil Rights quilt and University of Alabama quilt.
Decoration Day is a celebration that occurs in rural graveyards throughout the Deep South. On designated weekends, usually in the spring and summer, families gather to clean and decorate the graves and to remember their dead. The occasion is accompanied by the informal sharing of family stories, hymn singing, and a picnic known as "dinner on the grounds." Interviews with several families convey the nature of the event in the past and how the depopulation of some rural communities has affected the practical realities of graveyard maintenance.
Sand Mountain is a region of the state known for its music, particularly for Sacred Harp singing and old time fiddling. The late Noah Lacy was a respected practitioner of both traditions and a recipient of the Alabama Folk Heritage Award for his contributions to preserving his community's musical heritage. In an interview recorded a year before his death, Noah Lacy (past away 1993) recounts times spent playing in string bands and fiddle contests and attending Sacred Harp singings while he expresses what music has meant to him and his family.
Gourd Martin Houses.
Using gourds as birdhouses is a tradition of Native American origin that was soon adopted by settlers to this region when they, too, recognized the usefulness of the purple martin as an insect eater. D. J. Cannon and Reuben Norrell are two men who've had a lifetime of experience with purple martins and their preferred, free-swinging nesting habitat. Both men tell of the benefits of the bird to agriculture and Cannon describes gourd cultivation and the finer points of making martin houses and attracting purple martins.
Jerry "Boogie" McCain.
Jerry McCain grew up in Gadsden, where he began learning to play the harmonica when he was five years old. He learned by imitating the blues masters, such as Sonny Terry, Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter, whose recordings he heard on the jukebox at his father's barbecue stand. Later Jerry began his own recording career, developed his distinctive harmonica style and performed across the South, at national blues festivals, and in several European countries. McCain discusses his development as a songwriter and musician in the blues tradition.
Mobile Bay Jubilees.
Several times each summer, thousands of fish migrate to the shallow water of Mobile Bay's EasternShore where they become lethargic, disoriented and are easily caught with gigs or nets. This natural phenomenon, named for the festive atmosphere of the event, plays a part in the cultural identity of Eastern Shore communities. The program explores the lore of jubilees, including explanations of the phenomenon, signs used in predicting when and where jubilees will occur, and tales and pranks associated with this extraordinary event.