Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Annabel Morris Buchanan (22 October 1888–6 January 1983), composer and folklorist, was born in Groesbeck, Limestone County, Texas, the daughter of Anna Virginia Foster Morris, a teacher, and William Caruthers Morris, editor and publisher of a local newspaper. She changed her given name from Annie Bell to Annabel at the age of eighteen. When Morris was ten her father gave up journalism to become a minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and by 1901 had moved the family to Maury County, Tennessee. Showing precocious musical talent, Morris won a scholarship at age fifteen to the Landon Conservatory in Dallas, where she studied piano, violin, voice, and composition and graduated with honors in 1906. Morris taught music during the 1907–1908 academic year at Halsell College in Oklahoma and from 1909 to 1912 at the Stonewall Jackson Institute at Abingdon.

On 14 August 1912 in Salem she married John Preston Buchanan, a lawyer who served in the Senate of Virginia from 1916 to 1919, during part of which time his father and law partner, Benjamin Franklin Buchanan, was lieutenant governor. The couple settled in Marion, where, into the 1920s, Buchanan was involved primarily with her home and family of two daughters and two sons. She also found time to serve as organist and choir director at a local church, to compose songs, and to write articles about gardening for such magazines as Better Homes and Gardens and Woman's Home Companion. In 1923 Buchanan organized the Marion Monday Afternoon Music Club and through that group became active in the Virginia Federation of Music Clubs, for which she served two terms as state president in 1927–1930, and the National Federation of Music Clubs, for which she sat on the board of directors from 1933 to 1937 and chaired the Department of American Music from 1933 to 1935.

A turning point in Buchanan's life came about 1927 when she met John Powell, a composer and pianist from Richmond, who not only employed themes from folk music in his works but also believed ardently in preserving Anglo-Saxon cultural forms. Powell inspired Buchanan to study and collect folk music and to use its musical themes in her compositions. She included performances by folk musicians in the first Virginia State Choral Festival, which she and Powell organized in 1928.

In 1931 Buchanan cofounded and directed the White Top Folk Festival, held each year (except 1937) until 1939. The festival, which took place atop a mountain in Grayson County and gained nationwide attention in 1933 when Eleanor Roosevelt was guest of honor, was only part of what Buchanan saw as her larger work of preserving and disseminating the traditional music of the region. From 1933 to 1936 she organized a series of prefestival seminars that brought folklorists, composers, and writers together with traditional musicians for classes and concerts. Through these meetings, and later through correspondence with such folklorists as Phillips Barry, Anne Gilchrist, and Donald Knight Wilgus, Buchanan continued to study and write about folk music. Her Folk Hymns of America (1938) explored traditional use of secular tunes for sacred songs. Buchanan also provided musical arrangements for many of the traditional hymns she had collected from family members and other informants. The collection was well received by musicians and scholars alike.

Buchanan called all her folklore activities the "White Top work." Besides the establishment of one of the nation's first large regional folk festivals, her accomplishments in this field include published articles on the White Top festival and on other aspects of folk music, four book-length manuscripts on folk music and folklore, and her collection of more than 800 traditional songs, mainly from southwestern Virginia, western North Carolina, eastern Kentucky, and Tennessee. This collection is particularly valuable because Buchanan, with her musical training, was one of the few collectors to record tunes as well as lyrics on paper in the years before the widespread availability of recording machines.

Buchanan used folk themes in much of her own substantial body of musical compositions, especially the three choral-symphonic works—a choral ballad called "The Legend of Hungry Mother," a work for women's chorus entitled "Rex Christus," and a suite for chorus and symphony orchestra called When the Moon Goes Down—that she believed were her most important contributions to the fine arts. She also published more than 100 original art songs and hymns as well as the arrangements for nearly 250 folk songs and folk hymns.

In 1936 Buchanan moved to Richmond to work for the Works Progress Administration's Federal Music Project and withdrew from active involvement in the White Top festival, partly as a result of her new position and partly from escalating disagreements with promoters John Augustus Blakemore and John Powell over the growing commercialization of the festival. Buchanan's husband, who had remained in Marion and from whom she had become alienated, died on 15 September 1937. She sold their Smyth County home and to support herself taught music at the New England Music Camp in Kennebec County, Maine, at the University of Richmond as a professor of musical theory, and at Madison College (later James Madison University) in Harrisonburg. In 1948 Buchanan retired from teaching to devote more time to her manuscripts and compositions. Three years later she moved to Paducah, Kentucky, to be near her family. Buchanan worked with the National Federation of Music Clubs as its national folk music archivist from 1958 to 1963. Through correspondence with members and folklorists all over the country, she collected more than a thousand folk songs that were deposited in the Archive of Folk Music at the Library of Congress. In 1963 Annabel Morris Buchanan took a six-month world tour, after which she returned to Paducah, where she died on 6 January 1983. She was buried in Round Hill Cemetery in Marion. Later that year, when Marion music enthusiasts reactivated the Monday Afternoon Music Club, the organization she had founded was renamed in her honor the Annabel Morris Buchanan Federated Music Club of Smyth County.

Sources Consulted:
Lyn Wolz, "Annabel Morris Buchanan: Folk Song Collector," Ferrum Review 5 (fall 1982): 27–34 ("White Top" quotation on 29); Wolz, "'White Top Folk Trails': Annabel Morris Buchanan's Folk Music Legacy" (master's thesis, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill [UNC], 1983); Grace Caroline Lelear, "Annabel Morris Buchanan: A Profile of Her Contributions to Folklore" (MLS thesis, UNC, 1978); Buchanan Papers and index to folksong collection, Southern Historical Collection, UNC; correspondence in John A. Blakemore Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC, and John Powell Papers, University of Virginia, Charlottesville; Marriage Register, Roanoke Co., Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; John A. Blakemore, Buchanan: The Family History of James Buchanan, Son of Alexander Buchanan of Pennsylvania, 1702–1976 (1978), 276; Marion Smyth County News, 15 Aug. 1912, 16, 23 Sept. 1937; Annabel Morris Buchanan, "Adventures in Virginia Folkways," Richmond Times-Dispatch Sunday magazines, 24 May–12 July 1936; David E. Whisnant, All That Is Native and Fine: The Politics of Culture in an American Region (1983), 181–252 (portrait on 217); Ulrich Troubetzkoy, "Music on the Mountain," Virginia Cavalcade 11 (summer 1961): 4–10 (portrait on 4); obituaries in Paducah Sun, 6 Jan. 1983, and Marion Smyth County News, 11 Jan. 1983.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Lyn Wolz.

How to cite this page:
Lyn Wolz,"Annabel Morris Buchanan (1888–1983)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2001 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Buchanan_Annabel_Morris, accessed [today's date]).

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