Bristol Sessions, Reclaiming The Banjo, Appalachian-Mexican Folk Art, And More


In this week’s episode of Inside Appalachia, we’ll hear about Black musicians and luthiers who are reclaiming the banjo — an instrument with deep roots in Africa and a difficult history in The United States. We’ll also hear about The Bristol Sessions — recording sessions known for bringing country music out of the hollers and onto radios, and for making stars of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. But that well-known story left out a whole group of musicians — the Black musicians who played on the Bristol sessions. We’ll also meet an artist from East Tennessee by way of Mexico City who’s bringing Mexican folk arts to Appalachia.

In This Episode:

Mexican Folk Arts In East Tennessee

Hector Saldivar

Katie Myres/WVPB
Hector Saldivar in his studio in Lenoir City, Tennessee.

When Hector Saldivar moved to east Tennessee from Mexico City, he didn’t think of himself as an artist. Today, Saldivar’s work in clay, papier mache, and tile shows at galleries all over the region. Over the years, he’s found a way to bring Mexican folk arts to Appalachia and now he teaches them, too. Folkways reporter Katie Myers visited the artist in his studio in Lenoir City, Tennessee, to talk with him about his life and work.

Digging Beneath The Surface Of The Origin Story Of Country Music

The Bristol Sessions left such a deep mark and broad influence they’ve become known as the Big Bang of modern-day country music. But that foundation myth leaves out a big part of the origin story of country music and it leaves out a whole group of musicians. Folkways reporter Trevor McKenzie has been looking into this often untold chapter in country music history. Our producer Roxy Todd called him up to learn more.

Landfill Stench in Bristol, T.N.

Bristol, Tennessee is known for the 1927 recording sessions that launched commercial country music, and for the Bristol Motor Speedway, one of NASCAR’s most beloved tracks. But, it’s also home to 44,000 people, split between sister cities on either side of the Tennessee and Virginia state lines.

Residents in some neighborhoods there have been complaining about a noxious stench coming from a landfill on the Virginia side of the line Our host Mason Adams spoke with Sarah Wade, a journalist who recently covered the story for the environmental news site Southerly, for more information.

Black Musicians Who Are Reclaiming The Banjo

The banjo, an instrument closely associated with mountain music, originated in Africa and came to America with enslaved Africans. In the 1830s and 1840s, it was taken up by white musicians and became a staple of minstrelsy, a form of racist entertainment in which white performers—often in blackface—depicted stereotypes of Black Americans. Eventually the banjo crossed fully over into white public culture and was separated from its African roots and identity. Now, there’s an emerging movement of Black musicians who are reclaiming the banjo and taking the instrument—and its sound—in new directions.


Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Wes Swing, Dinosaur Burps, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens, as heard on Mountain Stage, The Carter Family, L Watson, The Johnson Brothers, Jimmie Rodgers and Alfred G. Karnes, from the Bear Family’s 2020 Bristol Sessions album (We Shall All Be Reunited: Revisiting the Bristol Sessions, 1927-1928), Deena Jennings, and Byron Thomas. Roxy Todd is our producer. Our executive producer is Eric Douglas. Kelley Libby is our editor. Alex Runyon is our associate producer. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode.

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