Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with John Edward Niles, September 8, 1982

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:03 - Earliest memories of John Jacob Niles

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Partial Transcript: I thought we might talk first about your very earliest recollections of your family and your childhood at Boot Hill Farm.

Segment Synopsis: John Edward Niles talks about his father singing and how his father's age affected Niles' attitude towards the elderly. He describes his father's personality and abilities. He talks about his father's legacy.

Keywords: Age; Compositions; Farmers; Gray hair; Legacy; Music; Personalities; Singing; Talents

Subjects: Fathers.; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980; Personality.

00:05:58 - John Jacob Niles as a performer

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Partial Transcript: There have been many people who have criticized my father, rather severely, for his performance methodology.

Segment Synopsis: Niles talks about his father's performance style and his decision to perform folk music in a formal way. He talks about how his father's desire to be an actor influenced his performances. Niles talks about his father's unique voice.

Keywords: Acting; Appearance; Dulcimer; Recitals; Rhythm; Techniques; Voice

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

00:10:29 - Watching his father perform

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Partial Transcript: Dad was an active man, physically. He liked to be on the farm. He liked being in Kentucky.

Segment Synopsis: Niles talks about his father enjoying being at home. He talks about traveling with his father, and his father's ability to make an audience laugh.

Keywords: Audience; Country; Farms; Home; Travel

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

00:14:27 - Audience preferences / poetry and acting

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Partial Transcript: Was there any kind of audience he liked best, like, say college students or young children, or?

Segment Synopsis: Niles talks about his father enjoying performing for children and college students. He talks about his father occasionally reading poetry during a performance, as well as his father acting on stage and how people reacted.

Keywords: Age; Children; Kids; Mothers; Performances; Poems; Schools; Writers; Youth

Subjects: Folk music--United States--History and criticism.; Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

00:18:58 - Rehearsals

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Partial Transcript: Do you ever remember seeing him do--like, rehearse at home?

Segment Synopsis: Niles discusses how his father would practice his performances and commit songs to memory.

Keywords: Acting; Ballads; Memory; Practices; Prompt book; Rehearsals

Subjects: Folk music--United States.; Musical performance; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

00:20:47 - Family meals / father's attitude

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Partial Transcript: What, uh, what was it like, say, just an afternoon at home, and dinner at Boot Hill Farm? I mean, was he always the center of attention?

Segment Synopsis: Niles talks about the food his family ate. He further describes his father's personality and attitude.

Keywords: Brothers; Dinner; Food; Health; Mothers

Subjects: Families.; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

00:24:07 - Mother

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Partial Transcript: What about your mother's relationship with him? She has, um, certainly played an important role in his career and his life.

Segment Synopsis: Niles talks about the relationship between his mother and father. He talks about his mother as a writer and manager. He talks about his father writing letters to his mother daily when traveling.

Keywords: Age difference; Cultural backgrounds; Identity; Mothers; Success

Subjects: Folk music--United States--History and criticism.; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

00:28:30 - Niles' brother Tom

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Partial Transcript: Now your mother has a nickname, that reminds me, and your brother. But do--you don't have one, do you?

Segment Synopsis: Niles describes his brother Tom. He talks about how his brother earned his nickname. He talks about his peers knowing his father was famous.

Keywords: Attitudes; Brothers; Fame; Quiet; Reserved

Subjects: Brothers.; Nicknames

00:31:40 - Musical interest of John Edward Niles

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Partial Transcript: When did your music, um, interest start?

Segment Synopsis: Niles talks about his father encouraging his interest in music. He talks about high school and his decision to go to college. He talks about his musical growth during his time in the military.

Keywords: Bands; Career; Clark County (Ky.); Encouragement; Henry Clay High School (Lexington, Ky.); Military; Music program; Opera; Pittsburgh (Pa.); Records

Subjects: Niles, John Edward

00:38:09 - Father's death / future of Boot Hill Farm

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Partial Transcript: When was the last time you saw your father?

Segment Synopsis: Niles describes the last time he saw his father. He talks about his mother coping with his father's death. He discusses what he would like to be done with Boot Hill Farm.

Keywords: Clark County (Ky.); Death; Farmers; Future; Illness; Museums; Visits

Subjects: Family farms; Fathers.; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

00:44:05 - Final comments on father

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Partial Transcript: Can you think of anything else you'd like to say about your father or about his career?

Segment Synopsis: Niles talks about his father's interest in Appalachian culture. He talks about the musical influences of different cultures. Other folk musicians are discussed. He talks more about the criticisms his father faced.

Keywords: American; Cultures; Diversity; Folk music; Interpretations; Jean Ritchie; Music; Tunes

Subjects: Folk music--United States--History and criticism.; Folk music--United States.; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980

00:49:40 - Piracy / politics / famous visitors

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Partial Transcript: I know one thing I wanted to ask you about that, uh, has come up, and I've see--I saw your, your father has written about it, is the piracy issue. People using his material.

Segment Synopsis: Niles talks about piracy of his father's compositions. He discusses his father's decision to not use his music for political purposes. Niles talks about well-known performers who visited his father at home. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: Compositions; Critics; Jessye Norman; Joan Baez; Politics; Sharing; Work ethic

Subjects: Folk music--United States--History and criticism.; Folk music--United States.; Niles, John Jacob, 1892-1980