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Ola Belle Reed’s Appalachian ‘Rising Sun Melodies’ Out August 3 From Smithsonian Folkways

United States
July 19, 2010 — Ola Belle Reed (1916–2002) grew up in western North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains. Her story permeates the music and extensive liner notes of ‘Rising Sun Melodies,’ out August 3rd from Smithsonian Folkways. It is the story of a woman with a big heart and big voice and the wonderful music community she and her family helped create; it is also the story of her family still keeping it going today. The CD contains 19 tracks of Ola Belle’s pure, forceful singing and nimble banjo-playing; eight of the tracks are previously unreleased live recordings from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival (from ’72 and ’76), including her versions of Ralph Stanley’s “I Am the Man, Thomas” and Hank Williams’s “I Saw The Light.”

The music of the Appalachians mixes the traditions of the immigrants who settled there: string band tunes, old banjo and fiddle melodies, spirituals and hymns known by generations of families, parlor ballads from the late 19th century, minstrel tunes, and old ballads from the British Isles. Ola Belle, born Ola Wave Campbell, one of 13 children, learned many of these, and her style of clawhammer banjo, from her family in the early 1920s. Her father played in a string band with his sister and brother, and she played in bands with her brother, Alex Campbell, and after she married Bud Reed in 1949, with him and their son David.

The Campbells moved to northeastern Maryland in 1934 to escape the Great Depression, and in 1951 Alex and the Reeds opened a country music park near Rising Sun called the New River Ranch, which featured Nashville stars such as Hank Williams, The Carter Family, Grandpa Jones, Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn and star bluegrass acts like Flatt and Scruggs, Bill Monroe, and the Stanley Brothers. Ola Belle, Alex and their group, known as the New River Boys and Girls, were the house band. They also opened Campbell’s Corner, a legendary country store in Oxford, Pennsylvania, which sold food, supplies, musical instruments and records from regional Southern record labels. In the back of the store was an area where musicians were recorded and later broadcast over the radio.

Some of the leaders of the late 1950s folk revival visited the New River Ranch and Campbell’s Corner, including music scholar Mike Seeger and mandolin virtuoso David Grisman. The folklorist Henry Glassie took an interest in Ola Belle’s life and music and recommended the Campbell-Reed family to Ralph Rinzler, the artistic director for the new Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife on Washington, DC’s National Mall. Ola Belle and her family played there in 1969, finally gaining national recognition from folk music fans. The family band played the Festival of American Folklife again in 1972, and returned for the 1976 Bicentennial Festival. Many of the recordings in this collection come from these two festivals.

Folk musician Kevin Roth, a virtuoso on the mountain dulcimer who recorded 12 albums for Folkways Records, arranged with the labels’ founder Moses Asch to release an audio documentary on Ola Belle and her music and beliefs in 1976, called ‘My Epitaph.’ The record was a combination of Ola Belle’s thoughts intertwined with her music. A second Folkways album, ‘All in One Evening’, followed in 1978.

In 1978, the University of Maryland presented Ola Belle Reed with an honorary doctorate of letters, and in 1986, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded her a National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor an American folk artist can receive. A year later, Ola Belle suffered a debilitating stroke, and for the next fifteen years was confined to bed and a wheelchair. She passed away one day before her 86th birthday in 2002.

Ola Belle became a role model— especially for women in bluegrass and old-time music circles— as the trailblazer who paved the way for women writing songs and fronting a band. Even musicians too young to remember her from her active playing days have paid musical homage to her. The alt-country band Ollabelle owes her its name, and The Demolition String Band recorded an entire album of Ola Belle’s music. In addition to GRAMMY winners Marty Stuart (whose cover of Ola Belle’s “High on a Mountain.” reached #24 on Billboard’s Country Top 50 chart), Hot Rize fiddle player Tim O’Brien, Cathy Fink and The Del McCoury Band, notables such as the Louvin Brothers and Crooked Still have also covered Ola Belle’s signature songs. They and others will keep her music alive and spirit thriving.

Ola Belle Reed, ‘Rising Sun Melodies’

Track Listing:

1. I’ve Endured
2. Ola Belle’s Blues
3. Springtime of Life
4. Bonaparte’s Retreat (Pee Wee King & Redd Stewart)
5. Foggy Mountain Top (A.P. Carter)
6. Fortunes
7. High on a Mountain
8. Sweet Evalina
9. Sing Me a Song
10. Tear Down the Fences
11. My Epitaph
12. Look Down That Lonesome Road (Traditional) **
13. Undone in Sorrow **
14. I Believe in the Old Time Way (Charlie Moore/Bill Napier) **
15. Nine Pound Hammer (Merle Travis) **
16. I Am the Man, Thomas (Ralph Stanley) **
17. I’ve Endured **
18. Ranger’s Command **
19. I Saw the Light (Hank Williams) **

{** previously unreleased}

NOTE: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings retail distribution is through ADA (Alternative Distribution Alliance) at 800.239.3232. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings releases are available through record and book outlets. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, as well as the original Folkways, Cook, Dyer-Bennet, Monitor, Paredon, Fast Folk, Collector, M.O.R.E., I.L.A.M. and A.R.C.E. collections, are available via mail order at 888.FOLKWAYS or 800.410.9815 and via the Internet.
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