The face of Sam Gleaves, ’14, lights up when he describes his new project. An Appalachian Studies major, he is well-known around campus for spirited performances on banjo with the Berea College Bluegrass Ensemble. He is currently focusing his passion and talent on documenting the work of mountain music’s old guard. When Academic Vice-President Chad Berry, former director of the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center, approached him about the project, Sam understood its relevance to his field of study and to the College’s commitment to Appalachia, and he immediately knew which musicians he wanted to work with.
One was Jim Lloyd from Rural Retreat, Virginia, only a few miles from where Sam grew up in Wytheville. “He was the first one to put my hands on a banjo,” says Sam. “He taught me everything I know.”
The other was ballad singer Sheila Kay Adams, who grew up in a community of musicians in Madison County, North Carolina. “She does a lot of the old unaccompanied ballads that came over from great Britain three or four hundred years ago,” Sam says. “I was always fascinated with those.”
Both performers have long histories with audiences and recording equipment. However, Sam is guiding them away from their usual repertoires and toward lesser-known material. He spent the summer with Lloyd and Adams at their homes and on stage, asking both to dig deep and remember numbers they had not performed in years. “I would ask about songs they had heard when they were only four or five years old and try to pull those old, old memories back,” he says. In doing so he was able to capture songs that might have otherwise been lost. The recordings will be made available online through the Hutchins Library Special Collections and Archives.
The songs will also live on through Sam, who has learned many of them. He intends to keep playing them and hopes other musicians will do the same.
Anyone interested in listening to Jim Lloyd and Sheila Kay Adams can do so at www.berea.edu/hutchinslibrary/specialcollections beginning in January 2012.