The Library of Virginia
 

Before Recordings

New Technology

Early Field Recordings

Early Commercial Recording Sessions

Over the Airwaves

Creating Traditional Culture

The Interplay of Musical Styles

"Old Times Tunes" in Southwest Virginia

The Family Band

Mill to Microphone

Piedmont Blues

Tidewater Tradition

 

EARLY COMMERCIAL RECORDING SESSIONS

In 1927 the Victor label advertised auditions in Bristol, which straddles the Virginia-Tennessee line. Usually remembered today for capturing the first commercial recordings of soon-to-be stars Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, the recording sessions and Bristol have been called the "Birthplace of Country Music." In fact, many Virginia old-time artists had already successfully recorded by 1927, including Henry Whitter and the Stoneman Family, both of whom were present at the Bristol session. The city hosted another Victor recording session in 1928.

For five days in October 1929, musicians from across Virginia played their songs for engineers of the OKeh Record Company in Richmond. Firms like Victor, Columbia, and OKeh held sessions away from their northern studios in order to mine the rich vein of southern music demanded by record buyers. The Richmond recording session was a microcosm of Virginia and American music, capturing the work of old-time bands, gospel quartets, harmonica players, jazz acts, and even Hawaiian orchestras. Artists came from Roanoke, Richmond, Hopewell, Norfolk, and several rural communities hoping to achieve musical fame. A few had already made 78-rpm records, most notably Bela Lam and His Greene County Singers, the Sparkling Four Quartet, the Tubize Royal Hawaiians, and the Richmond Starlight Quartette. Others had been heard on the new technology of radio.
 

Victor Label
One of the first releases of the Carter Family, recorded at Bristol in 1927. 
Courtesy of Joe Bussard.
 


All Recordings

J. P. Nestor, "Train on the Island" (Victor 21707), recorded in Bristol, Tennessee, 1 August 1927. Re-issued on Rural String Bands of Virginia (County CD-3502) and on The Anthology of American Folk Music (Smithsonian Folkways 40090).
 
  Babe Spangler and Dave Pearson, "Midnight Serenade" (Okeh 45387), recorded in Richmond, Virginia, October 14, 1929. Re-issued on Rural String Bands of Virginia (County CD-3502), and on Virginia Roots: the 1929 Richmond Sessions (Outhouse Records 1001).
 
Tarter and Gay, "Unknown Blues" (Victor 38017), recorded in Bristol, Tennessee, on November 2, 1928. Re-issued on Ragtime Blues Guitar (Document records, DOCD-5062).
 
Tubize Royal Hawaiian Orchestra, "Sweetheart of Mandalay" (Okeh 45394), recorded in Richmond, Virginia, October 14, 1929. Re-issued on Virginia Roots: the 1929 Richmond Sessions (Outhouse Records 1001).
 
Golden Crown Quartet, "The Sign of Judgement" (Okeh 8739), recorded in Richmond, Virginia, October 13, 1929. Re-issued on Virginia Roots: the 1929 Richmond Sessions (Outhouse Records 1001).