Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Rich Kirby, August 16, 2015

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

 

Transcript
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Index
Search this Index
X
00:00:00 - Introduction / Education

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Rolling!

Segment Synopsis: Kirby introduces himself and names his parents, Virginia Graham and John Kirby. Kirby reminisces about moving to Cynthiana, Kentucky at the age of three. There, he lived with his grandmother and grandfather who ran a store in Jackson. Kirby says that when he was seven years old his father got a job with a building material company selling wall covering to contractors. Because of his father's job, the family moved to New York City. Kirby elaborates on the clash between the Kentucky culture of his family and the broader New York culture they were surrounded by. Kirby describes being able to get a taste of Kentucky at home in his family's apartment and also through the music of folk artist Jean Ritchie, who he met for the first time at around sixteen years of age. Kirby talks about his education as well. His parents pushed him to be "upwardly mobile," encouraging him to become educated and attend college. He went to Trinity private school in New York City. There, he describes feeling different from the other students since he was the only one from Kentucky. Kirby mentions that sometimes the other kids would poke fun at Kentucky since they knew he was sensitive about it. Kirby posed playing a banjo underneath the Confederate flag in a yearbook photo in order to connect with his Southern heritage. Kirby remarks though that he later ended up taking a very different view of the symbolism behind the Confederate flag.

Keywords: Banjos; Confederate flags; Cynthiana (Ky.); Extended family; Folk music; Harrison County (Ky.); Hindman Settlement School; Hunter College Elementary School; Jean Ritchie; John Kirby; Moving; New York City (N.Y.); Private schools; Public schools; Sarah Ogan Gunning; Times Square; Trinity School; Virginia Graham; Washington (D.C.); Women's work

Subjects: Education; Family--History; Folk music--Appalachian Region; Music; Music--Appalachian Region; Musicians

GPS: Cynthiana (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.388333, -84.296944
00:12:13 - Musical background

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, but, uh, before we get, get to that idea of changing perspective on the South, in this era when you're like--or time, when you're in Trinity and you're thinking about, um, your identity really strongly also there's Jean Ritchie...

Segment Synopsis: Kirby describes his journey into music. He mentions the Kingston Trio as particularly inspirational. He also describes his family's extensive musical background. Kirby was exposed to the background quite a bit since during the summers he would travel from New York City to Cynthiana to spend time there. His grandmother, mother, aunt, uncle, and cousin were all musicians in one form or another. Kirby's grandmother, Addie Graham, was a singer of the Primitive Baptist Tradition. Her songs were also inspired by African American musical traditions which she learned from black railroad workers from the Deep South. Kirby's mother played piano. During the Great Depression, she played piano with her sister for a living. Kirby describes her style of piano-playing to be reminiscent of the two-fingered banjo style.

Keywords: 2-finger banjos; Addie Graham; African American music; Banjos; Been a Long Time Traveling (Album); Blues; Campton (Ky.); Childhood; Clarence Ashley; Clothing stores; Cynthiana (Ky.); Darlin Corey; Doug Dorsig; Folk Revival; Folk festivals; Friends of Old Time Music; Guitars; Harrison County (Ky.); Jean Ritchie; Kingston Trio; Long and a Country Jake; Mississippi Delta; New York City (N.Y.); O&K Railroad; Pete Seeger; Pianos; Primitive Baptist Church; Railroad workers; The Dummy; The Graham Sisters; Wild Bill Jones; Women's work

Subjects: African Americans--Appalachian Region; Family--history; Folk music--Appalachian Region; Music; Music--Appalachian Region; Musicians

GPS: Cynthiana (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.388333, -84.296944
00:28:31 - Culture clash between Kentucky and New York / Beginning to focus on music

Play segment

Partial Transcript: And we'll get to that, but I want to, um, go back a little, and, and stay, uh, with your recollections about going between New York and Kentucky for a minute.

Segment Synopsis: Kirby talks about traveling between New York City and Cynthiana as a child, and the clash of cultures there. Kirby discusses at length his initial journey to become a lawyer and how he switched tracks into music and activism. Kirby says that the anti-Vietnam War protests and black civil rights activists were key in his own political awakening. Kirby attended Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, then attended law school at Yale. Kirby's political and musical awakening eventually resulted in him quitting work as a lawyer after a year. His parents were initially disappointed.

Keywords: Alan McSurely; Anarchists; Anti-war protests; Appalachian Volunteers; Appalred; Bill Richardson; Broad form deeds; Childhood; Conservation Foundation; Dan Gibson; Dating; Harry Caudill; Howard Thorkelson; Jink Ray; Joseph Mulloy; Law schools; Mountain Legal Rights; Mountain Peoples’ Rights; Night Comes to the Cumberlands (Book); Pike County Sedition Trials; Political activism; Protests; Scott County (Va.); Tom Gish; Trinity College; War on poverty; Washington (D.C.); Whitesburg (Ky.); Widow Combs; Yale Architecture School community projects; Yale University

Subjects: African Americans--Appalachian Region; African Americans--Civil rights; Cynthiana (Ky.); Family--History; Folk music--Appalachian Region; Harrison County (Ky.); Music; Music--Appalachian Region; Musicians; New York City (N.Y.); Strip mining; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

GPS: Cynthiana (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.388333, -84.296944
00:48:18 - Relationship with Harry Caudill

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, I'd love to talk about your time with Harry Caudill too if you don't mind.

Segment Synopsis: Kirby describes his relationship with Harry Caudill. Caudill was Kirby's supervisor beginning in 1968, but not an especially involved one. Kirby says that he respected Caudill and still does, although he disagrees with Caudill's interest in eugenics later in life. Kirby feels very strongly about the pertinence of Caudill's earlier pre-eugenics arguments regarding the exploitation of the Appalachian region and "who owns the coal".

Keywords: 'War on Poverty'; Activism; Appalachian Volunteers; Bill Estep; Bullet holes; Dan Gibson; Eugenics; Jink Ray; Law schools; Lexington Herald Leader; Main Street; Mountain People Rights; Poverty; WMMT (Radio station); Whitesburg (Ky.)

Subjects: Appalachian Region--Social conditions; Coal mines and mining--Appalachian Region; College students--Political activity.

GPS: Cynthiana (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.388333, -84.296944
00:54:13 - Media and the "War on Poverty" / Activism and moving away from law

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, and that gets us, uh, towards the mountain legal rights phase but before we get into that, there is one more thing that I wanted to ask you about.

Segment Synopsis: Kirby says that he was not too critical of the media's coverage of the 'War on Poverty'. Kirby describes how he was a lawyer from 1969 to 1970, and during this time was very active in Mountain Legal Rights. He says that he "didn't need CBS news" to tell him about Appalachia's poverty because he worked directly with poor clients. Kirby also discusses more about his journey from being a lawyer to becoming a musician. Kirby pinpoints a Highlander Week during the early Fall of 1969 as a key part of his journey. Kirby discusses how much he learned from Michael Kline, activist in the Appalachian Volunteers and musician, who was on this trip. He also met Edith Easterling, Joe Mulloy, Don West, and other influential individuals. Kirby also contemplates how, at the time, he did not fit into the mountains as well as he thought he had. Kirby says that because he spent so much of his childhood in New York City, he had a limited understanding of the mountains in comparison with actual locals. Kirby explains at length the early contacts and early inspirations that brought him into activism and music.

Keywords: Activism; Appalachian Volunteers; Appalshop; Beth Bingman; David John Morris; Don West; Edith Easterling; Florence Reece; Guy Carawan; Helen Lewis; Highlander Research Center; Huntington (W. Va.); Joseph Mulloy; Law schools; Michael Kline; Mike Clark; Miles Horton; Mountain Legal Rights; Political organizing; Power structure research; Reverend Pearly Brown; Steve Doherty; Stringband music; Strip mining; Surface mining; The Poverty War is Dead; Tillman Cadle; Tom Gish; War on Poverty

Subjects: Appalachian Region--Social conditions; Appalshop, Inc.; College students--Political activity.; Folk music--Appalachian Region; Music; Music--Appalachian Region; Musicians; Poverty--Appalachian Region

GPS: Cynthiana (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.388333, -84.296944
01:09:29 - First album and black lung activism

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Okay, I once, uh, heard you talking about, um, how you first heard about the opportunity of being, um--uh, about Appalshop.

Segment Synopsis: Kirby details how he first heard about Appalshop and his journey toward Appalshop. Kirby also describes recording his first album (not through June Appal) during 1971, thanks to a Highlander contact with Anne Braden. Kirby discusses the socio-political context of his first album, which was political activism surrounding black lung, and its continued relevance to this day. June Appal Recordings later re-released Kirby's first album.

Keywords: Anne Braden; Appalachian identity; Appalshop; Beth Bingman; Bill Richardson; Black lung; Black lung movement; Doug Yarrow; Frankie Taylor; Harry Caudill; Jack Wright; Joseph Mulloy; Jubilee Festival; June Appal Recordings; Knoxville (Tenn.); Land ownership; Liner notes; Michael Kline; Mountain Legal Rights; Pike County Courthouse; Poverty; Roadside Theater; Scott County (Ky.); They Can’t Put it Back (Album); Welfare rights

Subjects: Appalachian Region--Social conditions; Appalshop, Inc.; Coal mines and mining--Appalachian Region; Folk music--Appalachian Region; Music; Music--Appalachian Region; Musicians

GPS: Cynthiana (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.388333, -84.296944
01:23:07 - Appalshop, Inc.

Play segment

Partial Transcript: This is--I don't want to take too hard of a turn, but could you talk about, uh, how this then leads you towards June Appal and, and into the Appalshop kind of universe?

Segment Synopsis: Kirby met Jack Wright at the 1971 Mountain People's Music Fair. Jack Wright helped produce some of the early Appalshop films. When Jack Wright suggested that they found their own record label, Kirby joined in. This became June Appal Records. Kirby describes some of the early albums he helped produce and co-produce, as well as several projects he did later on with June Appal. Kirby also discusses the friendships he developed there though his work, including John McCutcheon, whom Kirby worked with musically. Kirby's work with June Appal culminated with the Addie Graham recording. During the period of the Addie Graham recording, Kirby was active in a band called Wry Straw.

Keywords: Addie Graham; Audio production; Botswana; Brown Lung Cotton Mill Blues; Brownie’s Cafe; Coal trucks; DJs; Disc jockeys; Dudley Wilson; John McCutcheon; June Appal Recordings; Lay Down My Pick and Shovel (Album); Marty Newell; Monica Appleby; Mountain People’s Music Fair; Music recording; NPR; Nimrod Workman; Radio production; South Africa; WMMT (Radio station); Wry Straw; Wry Straw (Artist)

Subjects: Appalachian Region--Social conditions; Appalachians (People) in motion pictures; Appalshop, Inc.; Coal mines and mining--Appalachian Region; Documentary films.; Folk music--Appalachian Region; Motion pictures--Production and direction.; Music; Music--Appalachian Region; Musicians; Radio; South Africa

GPS: Cynthiana (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.388333, -84.296944
01:39:01 - The Addie Graham recording

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Can you tell me about how you, um, approached th, that project?

Segment Synopsis: Kirby explains his approach to the Addie Graham recording. Nancy McClellan and Barbara Kunkle (then Barbara Edwards) were instrumental in this project, particularly since Kunkle was doing a master's degree in Eastern Kentuckian balladry. Kirby worked with Kunkle to explore Graham's musical memory and repertoire. Kirby describes picking up Graham in Cynthiana to take her to different live events, concerts, and festivals where she sang. Kirby assisted Graham at these live events by standing next to her during her performances. Kirby also discusses the reception Addie Graham's record received.

Keywords: Addie Graham; Audio production; Balladry; Ballads; Barbara Kunkle; Berea Festival; Carter Caves Festival; Carter Family Fold; Cynthiana (Ky.); Folk festivals; Grandmothers; Harrison County (Ky.); John McCutcheon; June Appal Recordings; Loyal Jones; Mobile; Music recording; NEA grants; Prairie Home Companion; Radio production; Tommy Bledsoe; Winfield Music Festival

Subjects: Appalachian Region--Social conditions; Appalshop, Inc.; Family--history; Folk music--Appalachian Region; Music; Music--Appalachian Region; Musicians

GPS: Cynthiana (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.388333, -84.296944
01:51:19 - "Our Own Music" and cultural extraction

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, I wanted to ask you something right before the, uh--we took a break.

Segment Synopsis: Kirby explains the tension June Appal experienced with folklorists. Kirby also explains an essay he wrote which was included in Helen Lewis' book, "Colonialism in Modern America: The Appalachian Case" about people coming to Appalachia and extracting their culture for commercial use without really being part of the community or tradition. He mentions a case in which Appalshop was on "the wrong side" of a case of copyright infringement.

Keywords: "Our Own Music"; "Our stories"; 1970s; ASA Conference; Appalachian dulcimer; Appalachian studies; Appalshop; Appropriation; Art; Bob Dylan (Artist); Books; Cecil Sharp; Co-opting; Coal; Collectors; College students; Colonialism in Modern America: The Appalachian Case (book); Commercialism; Commodities; Commodity; Conflict; Contributions; Control; Copyright infringement; Council of Southern Mountains; Council of the Southern Mountains; Criticism; Critiques; Cultural politics; Disconnect; Dulcimers; Extraction; Filmmakers; Folk musicians; Folk revival; Folklorists; Funding; Generations; Helen Lewis; Herb E. Smith; Intermediary; Jack Tales; John Cohen; June Appal Records; Kingston Trio (Artist); Leaving behind wreckage; Lee Sexton; Mainstream; Media; Mistakes; Mountain Life & Work: Magazine of the Southern Mountains; Mountain culture; National Endowment for the Arts (NEA); National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH); Posers; Richard Chase; Rightful owners; Roadside Theater; Rounder Records; Sing Out! (Magazine); Sources; Subcultures; Thornton Spencer; Traditions; Washington Square Park, New York City (N.Y.); Young people; Youth culture; “Our Own Music” (Essay)

Subjects: Appalachian Region--Social conditions; Appalshop, Inc.; Family--History; Folk music--Appalachian Region; Folklore.; Folklorists; Music; Music--Appalachian Region; Musicians

GPS: Cynthiana (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.388333, -84.296944
02:18:24 - Explaining Appalshop

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um, I guess I'll ask just one more question.

Segment Synopsis: Kirby briefly talks about how he explains Appalshop to those who don't know what it is. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: Appalachia; Arts; Culture; Explaining; Explanations; History; media

Subjects: Appalshop, Inc.