Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Pow-wow at Bascom's big scrapbook

I don't have much, if any, archival credibility - I've never been much of a digger - but I would expect for an archive to arrive in boxes, shelves, or hanging files. Not in a big scrapbook.

But Bascom Lamar Lunsford was a big-hearted, everyday-people, big-scrapbook kind of guy. He kept his mingled personal and professional archive in one giant scrapbook, about the size of a large tombstone, with nearly 400 pages of detailed evidence devoted to an extraorinary life.

Actually,many extraordinary lives. Bascom was a country lawyer, a beekeeper, a traveling fuit tree salesman, a disappointed state Senate hopeful, a musician, a ballad collector, a songwriter, a folklorist, a lecturer, a promoter, an impressario, a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather, and, always, an ambassador - at times, almost an official one - for his beloved Southern mountains.

He was a one-man confluence. As a minor aside, I'll add that he has been my greatest inspiration over many years of mostly choosing adventure (and, usually, musical adventures) over what the suits call "secure employment opportunities."

I found Bascom thanks to Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, which I listened to on vinyl in the basement of the Washington University Music Library and pirated onto cassette. Bascom was one of only a few pioneering artists with two separate tracks included on Harry Smith's seminal anthology, which was released in 1952 and helped to inspire and define the folk revival.

Through a complicated series of initiatives and accidents, I ended up at the doorstep of Bascom's daughter, Jo Lunsford Herron, on South Turkey Creek, just outside of Asheville, North Carlina. I started and Jo finished an effort to get the Smithsonian Institution to reissue an old Folkways record of Bascom's music, with bonus materials drawn from his "Memory Collection" of 330 songs, which he recorded twice: in 1935 for Columbia University Library and in 1949 for the Library of Congress.

Now I am set to curate the largest-ever selection of recordings from the Memory Collection. Jo is gone. She paired me up with her son, Ed Herron, before she passed. Ed met me in Asheville Sunday night, and yesterday he took me to the archive - he took me to the scrapbook.

It resides in the library at Mars Hill College, where Bascom was born, and which stages a festival in his honor every fall (meet me in the mountains on October 4). We were joined by a staff archivist and folklorist. We paged through each of the scrapbook's many pages; the last reference in my notes from the archive refers to a picture of Bascom hunting deer on page 364.

I'll also be requesting from our new friends at Mars Hill copies of Bascom hunting bear and wild boar; Bascom showcasing the old way of keeping bees and the old way of running a mountain whiskey still; Bascom playing banjo and watching someone play banjo; Bascom square dancing and watching people square dance; Bascom banging the tom tom for a traditional Cherokee singer; and inspecting the door to Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge.

I'll also, finally, be answering a rather old piece of mail sent to Bascom's attention. It was written on January 17, 1951 by Ernest Bagly of 41 Hastings Road, Maidstone, Kent, England. Mr. Bagley writes, "I wonder if you could give me information on your recordings for the Library of Congress. Are they generally available?"

Just about, Mr. Bagly - fifty-eight years later. Just about available now.

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