The singers and musicians heard on these recordings made by John A. Lomax were brought together by Jean Thomas (1882–1982). They were among the many who she recruited to perform at her American Folk Song Festival, a pageant-like event she staged in the Ashland, Kentucky, area beginning in 1930 and which continued until her retirement in 1972.
This effort was inspired by her experience traveling as a court reporter in Eastern Kentucky. She often photographed musicians and other mountain people whom she encountered and used her portable typewriter to document lyrics and tunes to ballads.
The festival followed an unchanging script that Thomas said was intended to show "authentic sequences in America's musical history." Overall it reflected the belief of Thomas and many of her contemporaries that the speech patterns, songs, and other traditions of early British Isles settlers still survived in Appalachia.
Festival performers were costumed in homespun garments. Girls wore bonnets and calico dresses; women wore long dresses and wrapped shawls around their shoulders; and men and boys often wore overalls. Musicians would play traditional stringed instruments such as dulcimer, fiddle, guitar, banjo, and accordion, plus recorder and mouth harp. Homemade varieties, such as fiddles constructed out of corn stalks and banjos made from gourds, appeared alongside later models.