With its signature four-part harmonies and fervent message of Christian salvation, Southern gospel has a long, vibrant tradition in Western North Carolina — and it’s still going strong (see “Hidden Angels,” published in the Dec. 10 issue of Xpress, at www.mountainx.com).
But unless you’ve got access to a private collection, it’s not all that easy to track down examples of local-Southern-gospel recordings.
Western Carolina University professor Hal Herzog aims to change all that — at least at WCU’s Hunter Library. The institution already has about 200 folk, old-time and bluegrass CDs, and is now embarking on a quest to acquire noteworthy recordings of regional-Southern-gospel artists.
“That’s a real important part of [our] musical heritage,” observes Herzog, himself a banjo player and longtime fan of bluegrass and old-time music. “And it’s one you’re hearing less and less over commercial radio.”
His efforts fall in line with WCU’s increasing emphasis on exploring and documenting the cultural heritage of these mountains.
“We’re particularly interested in getting CDs from musicians [who] are not widely known outside of the region,” offers Herzog. “I think Western’s really more and more … realizing the Appalachian roots of the institution and its mission to the culture of the region. So this is the logical extension of the mission of the university in terms of documenting the cultural traditions in Southern Appalachia.”
Although anyone may listen to recordings at Hunter Library, only members of the university community may check out CDs and DVDs, notes Nan Watkins, a reference librarian there.
But no one will be checking out — in any sense of the phrase — any old-fashioned albums at WCU.
Hunter Library doesn’t collect vinyl recordings anymore, Watkins reveals. The decision to now acquire only CDs stems from a disastrous 1989 library fire in which the smoke from burning vinyl deposited black petroleum gunk over the contents of the library’s first floor, she continues. (The resulting clean-up bill exceeded $1 million.)
Herzog acknowledges that the mere act of archiving Southern gospel says sobering things about the music’s true place in our culture.
“Once universities start collecting stuff, you gotta kind of worry about it,” he muses. “It’s now become an art form; it’s now become an endangered species.
“But it’s a good thing we’re doing it,” he suggests. “Because nobody else is going to.”
[To propose a CD for WCU’s Hunter Library, or to offer a donation for the institution’s budding Southern-gospel-music collection, contact Hal Herzog at (828) 227-3360, or at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Nan Watkins at (828) 227-3398, or at email@example.com.]
Vinyl junkies, this one’s for you …
But for the no-vinyl policy at Hunter Library, a match might have been made in heaven with West Asheville resident Mildred Smith’s stash of 115 Southern-gospel records. Smith recently moved to a smaller home and now has to part with her albums.
“They’re in excellent shape,” she told Xpress. “I hate to see them not be used.”
Her vinyl-record collection spans from the late ’60s to the early ’80s, and includes such artists as Asheville’s beloved Kingsmen Quartet, as well as The Thrasher Brothers, The Blackwood Brothers, The Cathedrals and more.
[For more information, contact at Mildred Smith at 253-9523.]
The future of Southern gospel
An Xpress reader recently quizzed us about where to go to find out about upcoming regional-Southern-gospel concerts. Radio stations WFGW-AM 1010 in Black Mountain and WKJV-AM 1380 in Asheville both announce concerts over the air. Plus, you can check out regional-concert listings on WFGW’s Web site (www.brb.org/wfgw/) — just follow the “Concerts & Events” links.