Harlan County

Harlan County initially piqued young Alan Lomax’s interest in Kentucky—as a student at Harvard he had heard reports from so-called “Bloody Harlan,” where pitched battles were being fought between striking miners and the coal companies.  His father John A. Lomax had a connection there in the song-collector and scholar Harvey H. Fuson, the author of the 1931 Ballads of the Kentucky Highlands, and the Lomaxes first visited in 1933, making recordings of the blind fiddler Jim Howard. When Alan Lomax returned with his wife Elizabeth in 1937, Howard was the first performer they put to disc. Also recorded in Harlan was the coal miner Ganderson D. Vowell, who sang a diversity of sacred and topical material; students (including the girls’ octet) of the Pine Mountain Settlement School, as well as their resident ballad singer Abner Boggs; and ballads concerning local tragedies by the Shepherd sisters, Susan and Betty Sue.