Bell County is arguably the most well-represented county in this project. Heavily canvassed by both Alan and Elizabeth Lomax (in 1937) and Mary Barnicle (in 1938), the songs collected here run the gamut from sacred to downright sinful. It was in the community of Noetown, near Middlesboro, where 16-year-old Georgia Turner recorded her “The House of the Rising Sun” (as “The Rising Sun Blues,” the first version of the song captured “in the field”); you can also hear her mother Mary’s rendition of Old World ballads and newer compositions from the region, peddled on “ballet” sheet (broadside) by the blind songster Charlie Oaks.
Elsewhere in Bell you’ll hear harmonica tunes, family groups singing religious songs, and ballads and topical material by union activist Tillman Cadle, who later married Mary Barnicle. Barnicle contributed some eight hours of recordings from Bell Co. to the Library of Congress, the preponderance from worship services held at several Holiness churches, but also including blues, love songs, an epic and rumbustious story of a moonshine spree told by “Harmless” Bob Doolan, and an extensive session with banjoist and singer George “Shortbuckle” Roark.