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The Appalachian Center was created in 1970 as a focus for Berea College’s long-standing interest in and service to the Appalachian Region and its people. The Center’s founding director, Loyal Jones, is well-known for his delight in Appalachian culture, especially in music, religion, story-telling, and humor, as well as his scholarship, organizational ability, and people skills.
A Traditional Music Committee was organized in 1972 to advise the College on music collections, records, video tapes and sound tapes for the library and musical instruments and other materials for the museum. The first committee’s members were Jean Ritchie, John Lair, Bradley Kincaid, Asa Martin, Buell Kazee, Dean William Jones, Ethel Capps, Raymond McLain, Dr. Rolf Hovey, and Loyal Jones. An early report by Loyal Jones for the period 8/70-9/71 talks about “developing a series of concerts that will give us an opportunity to make videotapes of traditional singers for our collections.”
The festival is an outgrowth of that effort, for in 1974, the committee’s duties were expanded to include advising Loyal Jones and the Appalachian Center on policies and performers for the first Celebration. The Celebration of Traditional Music (CTM) was first held in the fall of 1974 and has continued every fall since then, except for two years (1999 and 2000), when a May weekend was tried out to see if that would increase the audience. The Celebration continues part of the Appalachian Center’s overall mission of encouraging and coordinating many of the Berea College’s special Appalachian programs, involving students and faculty, serving the region, and documenting the region’s culture.
According to the Appalachian Center’s Newsletter (Vol. 3 No. 3, p. 1),
The purpose of the festival, which will be both a recreational and a scholarly occasion, is to encourage the music and instrumental musicianship traditional to Appalachian people. This is actually not a new aim at Berea, since a spring dance festival and the Christmas Country Dance School have been fixtures in the calendar for many years and the college has a long-time interest in the collection and preservation of songs and ballads…
It was put on “under the direction of the Appalachian Center, with the assistance of the music department and the Berea Country Dancers.” “The celebration is being held both for the sheer fun of it and for the advancement of music scholarship” (Newsletter 3:4: p.1). The combination of education and entertainment has continued into the present, including interpretation and context for the music by the hosts in their introductions. The musicians have always been encouraged to provide their own contexts and communicate that to the audience as well.
The Celebration always includes an afternoon symposium, in which some aspect of traditional music is presented by an authority in the field. Subjects for the symposium have ranged from music of the Civil War, to shape note music, Kentucky fiddlers, women banjo players, and biographical presentations on influential musicians.
The CTM has been supported and advised by a Traditional Music Committee, made up of musicians, music producers, scholars, and appropriate Berea College personnel to provide suggestions for performers, symposium topics, and contexts for the traditional musicians invited to the festival. Past members have included country music greats Bradley Kincaid and Asa Martin; music and festival producers John Lair and John Rice Irwin; music scholars and collectors John Harrod and Gerald Milnes; musician/scholars Jean Ritchie and Betty Smith; archivists Gerald Roberts and Harry Rice.
This year’s Traditional Music Committee is comprised of Chris Green, Silas House, Donna Lamb, John Harrod, Harry Rice, Susan Spalding, Deborah Thompson, Sam Gleaves, and Al White.