The Library of Virginia
Before Recordings

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


The invention of the phonograph ushered in a new era in distributing and experiencing musical performance. Commercial sound recordings captured classical and popular music for a broad audience. Victor, Columbia, OKeh, and other major recording companies held recording sessions across the South and expanded their offerings in jazz, blues, and old-time. Consumers could purchase "talking machines" and phonograph records at music stores, piano companies, and furniture dealers. Catalog sales and traveling salesmen fueled rural demand. Local musicians learned tunes from the discs, receiving new songs from artists they had never met. As recording devices became widely available, cheaper, and more portable, folklorists and musicologists made their own sound recordings throughout the South. Although the Great Depression of the 1930s limited the number of new artists who recorded for the commercial labels, researchers expanded their work under New Deal relief programs. The Library of Congress's Archive of American Folk-Song was particularly active in recording blues, gospel, and old-time music in Virginia.


Furniture, piano, and music stores, such as the Burke-Hume Piano Company of Norfolk, pioneered the marketing of phonographs and 78-rpm records.  Library of Virginia