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Samantha Bumgarner -- fiddling ballad woman of mountains

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 12, 2009 06:49pm | Post a Comment
Aunt Samantha Bumgarner c. 1937

Aunt Samantha Bumgarner (née Biddix) was a fiddle and banjo player from North Carolina who, in 1924, became the first woman to record hillbilly music. In doing so, she opened the doors for all the great female hillbilly and country musicians who followed. Imagine for a second a world without Brenda Lee, Iris Dement, Jean Shepard, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Norma Jean, Skeeter Davis, Sue Thompson and Tammy Wynette, to name a few. Not a pretty place.

Dillsboro, North Carolina c. 1904
 

Samantha Biddix was born in Dillsboro, North Carolina on Halloween, 1878, the same year Black Bart held up his last stagecoach and, more relevantly, Thomas Edison patented the phonograph. Her parents were Has Biddix, himself a fiddler, and Sara MaLynda Brown Biddix. Though Biddix showed an early interest in music, her father wouldn’t allow her to touch the fiddle, an instrument occasionally referred to by hillbillies as a “devil’s box.” Nonetheless, when he wasn’t around, she played it and displayed a natural talent. The banjo, then viewed as a slightly more acceptable instrument for women, was not forbidden and Biddix’s first, constructed from gourd and cat hide, was presented to her at fifteen. Later, having demonstrated her skills for her father, he bought her a ten cent model and allowed her to perform with him in the area. Ultimately, he consented to her entering a banjo competition in Canton and she won. Gaining confidence, she began entering and winning competitions routinely.

English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians

When she married Carse Bumgarner in 1902, he gave her her first fiddle but she remained most acclaimed for her banjo playing. A few years later she acquired the nickname "Aunt Samantha." Although through the lens of modern ignorance, a hillbilly woman gaining fame with the banjo may seem completely out of the ordinary, it was actually fairly common for women to play the instrument, especially amongst hillbillies. In 1916, when Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles began field recording in the upper south, nearly three quarters of the hundreds of tunes they compiled as English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians were performed by women. In addition, many famous male hillbillies learned to play from the women in their lives. Ralph Stanley was taught to play by his mother, Lucy Smith Stanley. Cynthia "Cousin Emmy" May Carver taught "Grandpa" Louis Jones. Clarence "Tom" Ashley learned to play from his aunts, Ary and Daisy. Morgan Sexton was schooled by his sister, Hettie. Earl Scruggs was beaten to the banjo by his older sisters, Eula Mae and Ruby.

26 women's history fictional films

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 10, 2009 11:06pm | Post a Comment
Aelita Queen of Mars  Diary of a Lost Girl
 

   

     

   

   

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24 Fact-Based Films Celebrate Women's History Month

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 10, 2009 01:06am | Post a Comment
   
    
       
  
   
   
   

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Ruth Crawford Seeger - Modernist-cum-Folkie

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 8, 2009 07:43pm | Post a Comment
Female composers getting the short shrift is certainly nothing new, and is by no means limited to classical music. But as an admittedly casual fan of atonality, dissonance, modernism and serialism, I was surprised in February of this year to, for the first time, stumble across Middlewestern composer Ruth Crawford Seeger's unique, innovative musical voice. She immediately became a featured artist on The Lunatic Asylum and I became interested in her story.

Ruth Porter Crawford was born on July 3, 1901 in East Liverpool, Ohio, supposedly the "World Capital of Pottery." Her father was an itinerant minister. Her mother began her musical education with piano lessons when she was 11. Upon graduation from high school, she entered Foster's School of Musical Art in Jacksonville, Florida. In 1921, when it relocated to Miami, Crawford enrolled at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, where she studied with Madame Valborg Collett, Polish-born Henriot Levy and Louise Robyn. By 24, with the completion of her earliest work, she already displayed a unique modernist voice.

Ruth Crawford c. 1924

In Chicago, she met Djane Lavoie Herz, who in turn introduced her to the music of sometime-serialist Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. Through Lavoie Herz, she met and fell in with transpersonal astrologer/composer Dane Rudhyar, theorist/composer Henry Cowell and pianist Richard Bühlig. Cowell was an early supporter of her work and arranged for performances of her compositions in New York, where her folkish take on avant-garde drew comparisons to the work of Charles Ives and Aaron Copland.

Delia Derbyshire - electronic music pioneer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 6, 2009 07:33pm | Post a Comment
Delia Derbyshire

The Guardian once described Delia Derbyshire as “The unsung heroine of British electronic music,” seemingly implying that there are other heroines of British electronic music that are more widely… sung. I suppose there is Daphne Oram but the English never use less than three adjectives when one will suffice, so let’s just say that Delia Derbyshire is an unsung heroine of music. That she happens to have worked primarily in electronic music is secondary and that she was British shouldn't be held against her. She was a wizard and pioneer who, instead of guarding her magical abililties, eagerly shared her techniques and discoveries, but was stifled by the BBC’s draconian demands that their artists work and die in anonymity.


Delia was born in Coventry on May 5th, 1937. As a girl, she learned piano and violin and attended Barr's Hill School. She later attended college at Girton in Cambridge. After initially pursuing studies in math, she switched courses to music before graduation. After graduation, she began to look for work in the music field, quickly butting up against the deeply entrenched sexism of the field. In fact, in 1959, upon applying for a job at Decca, she was flatly told that their policy was to not hire women to work in the studios. The United Nations proved more diplomatic than the folks at Decca, and she worked there for a short while. Then she returned to England and found employment at the London-based music publisher, Boosey & Hawkes. She didn’t stay long.
In 1960, she was hired as a trainee studio manager at the BBC, working with the Radiophonic Workshop, then just a few years old. It was an organization charged with producing experimental incidental music and sound effects for the BBC Third Programme’s radio plays in cases where the normal orchestral score was deemed inappropriate. Her predecessors had included Harry Desmond Briscoe and Daphne Oram, two noted pioneers of electronic music and musique concrète.
Derbyshire came on board following Oram’s departure, as part of a group of young artists that also included Brian Hodgson and John Baker. Many of her initial pieces were collaborations with artist/playwright Barry Bermange. One such piece was 1964’s The Dreams, a sound collage of people describing their dreams with Derbyshire's electronic sounds.


Gradually, the Radiophonic Workshop began producing more music and sound effects for television than radio. One year earlier, in 1963, Derbyshire performed her mostly widely-heard work when given the score for Ron Grainer’s theme to a new science-fiction series, Doctor Who. Incorporating filters, tape loops and valve oscillators, she fashioned one of the most memorable pieces of electronic music ever, and one that's especially dear to Whovians. Grainer was so impressed he sought to give Derbyshire co-author credit but the BBC prevented it. Although officially uncredited, the popularity of the theme resulted in her employers giving her many other assignments and she ultimately produced over 200 pieces including noteworthy scores for Great Zoos of the World and Cyprian Queen. The BBC was, however, by no means entirely supportive of her work, rejecting many of her compositions, claiming they were too bizarre, “too lascivious for 11 year olds” and “too sophisticated for the BBC2 audience.”

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