The Library of Virginia

Before Recordings

New Technology

Early Field Recordings

Early Commercial Recording Sessions

Creating Traditional Culture

The Interplay of Musical Styles

"Old Times Tunes" in Southwest Virginia

The Family Band

Mill to Microphone

Piedmont Blues

Tidewater Tradition


The emergence of commercial radio in the 1920s played a major role in the expansion of popular and traditional music across America. With the advent of radio, local artists were heard across the country. In Virginia, WDBJ in Roanoke and WRVA in Richmond aired many roots music performers. The ability to be heard on radio also influenced the scouting by record companies. OKeh Records chose most, if not all, of the musicians for the Richmond 1929 session before the event in part because they were already known to company officials through radio.

Early broadcasts on Richmond radio station WRVA, founded in 1925 by the Larus and Brother Tobacco Company, featured such local performers as fiddler Babe Spangler, the Dixie Spiritual Singers, and the Tubize Royal Hawaiian Orchestra. By the 1930s, the station's main traditional music show was the Corn Cob Pipe Club. The show owed as much to vaudeville as to traditional Virginia culture, incorporating an orchestrated patter of jokes, popular and traditional songs, and even a minstrel duo patterned after the nationally renowned show Amos and Andy, which also aired over WRVA.

Corn Cob Pipe Club
WRVA's Corn Cob Pipe Club show mixed traditional music and vaudeville routines, including blackface minstrelsy.
ca. 1930s, Library of Virginia.

All Recordings

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).