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

The Family Band

Mill to Microphone

Piedmont Blues

Tidewater Tradition


The sound of keening voices, banjos, fiddles, and guitars emanating from the Appalachian region fascinated Americans in the early 1900s and tantalized record executives when they suspected its commercial potential. The instrumentation and distinctive vocals seem to have defined the music as ancient as did the rural backgrounds of many of the songsters. Certainly these artists drew on local traditions and tunes, but there were also distinctly modern and commercial elements to their presentations. The music that was popularly called "Old Time" in the 1920s and 1930s had many sources, including traditional Anglo-American balladry, British and American airs and fiddle tunes, religious harmony singing, antebellum minstrelsy, and popular song. Moreover, performers began writing pieces with an "Old Time" sound, from topical songs on famous events such as "The Wreck on the Southern Old 97" to "country" remakes of blues and jazz numbers.


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).