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Blues, gospel and country are topics of ‘Roots Music’ lecture


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Paul Vernon

October 8 in Kilmarnock

The Foundation for Historic Christ Church winds up its four-part lecture series on American Roots Music at the Lancaster Community Library Wednesday, October 8, at 7 p.m. Admission is by donation.

The speaker will be Paul Vernon, a noted music and film historian.  Vernon and his wife Judy Ebner have recently moved to the area after careers in the U.S. Foreign Service. Born in the United Kingdom, but now a U.S. citizen, Vernon has authored five books and more than 200 magazine articles and reviews on blues, gospel, jazz and world music. He has also contributed to PBS series on African-American gospel music.

The subject of this lecture will be the contributions of Virginia artists to blues, gospel and country music.

One of the earliest recordings by Virginia artists was that of the Dinwiddie Colored Quartet in 1902. Originally, the Dinwiddie Quartet sang in YMCAs, churches and elsewhere earning money for the Dinwiddie Normal and Industrial School, the first black school in southeast Virginia. After a few years, the quartet joined a touring black vaudeville show called the “Smart Set.” It was during a performance in Philadelphia in 1902 that the group was given the opportunity to record their music. Its a cappella music was originally recorded on a cylinder, a predecessor of 78 rpm records. Vernon will play it on an MP3 device for the audience.

Vernon states that one of the most important groups of Virginia roots music was the Carter Family. The family’s most famous performer is probably June, a third generation Carter. The Carters recorded between 1927 and 1956. They were the first vocal group to become country music stars and their music was a strong influence on the genres of bluegrass, country, gospel, pop and rock.

Another important group was the Golden Gate Quartet from Norfolk.  Formed in 1934 as the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet, they combined the arrangements associated with barbershop quartets with rhythms borrowed from the blues and jazz.

By 1927 technology existed to synchronize sound with moving pictures, culminating in the first talkie, “The Jazz Singer.” The same year, Fox Movietone News sent camera crews around the U.S. to film and record shorts to play between movie news. One of the earliest of these shorts was banjo player Bela Lam from Greene County, representing what is undoubtedly Virginia roots music. Vernon will show the audience this short, now on a DVD.

posted 10.01.2008

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