The Library of Virginia

Before Recordings

New Technology

Early Field Recordings

Early Commercial Recording Sessions

Over the Airwaves

Creating Traditional Culture

"Old Times Tunes" in Southwest Virginia

The Family Band

Mill to Microphone

Piedmont Blues

Tidewater Tradition


The musicians' choice of material often confounded the categories that record executives, folklorists, and musicologists tried to place on them. "Old-time" musicians played traditional and popular songs, often performing different material for folklorists and commercial outfits. Many white musicians also learned and performed music-jazz and blues-that record companies marketed as "race" music to African American audiences. The development of railroads and coal-mining in Southwest Virginia brought African Americans to the region and resulted in a fascinating intersection of black and white musical styles. Not only did black musicians directly influence country pioneers such as the Carter Family, but African American artists such as Carl Martin also played in and recorded with all-black string bands. White artists in the area reciprocated by learning and recording blues songs. Ironically, the banjo, an instrument played by black musicians and a small number of minstrel performers before the Civil War, became a "cross-over" instrument afterward and is today almost universally associated in the popular mind with white country, bluegrass, or old-time artists.  

 OKeh Old Time Tunes
OKeh and other record companies issued "race records," aimed at African American audiences, and series of "old time" or "hillbilly" music.
Courtesy of Recorded Sound Reference Center, Library of Congress.


All Recordings

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).