Part 3: Out of the Many, the One Arena


Part 3: Out of the Many, the One

Series telling the stories of the pioneers of American roots music. The last episode explores Hawaiian music, Cajun music and Mississippi John Hurt's blues.


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In the 1920s, record companies sent scouts

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to the most remote areas of the United States.

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For the first time,

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they recorded the music of everyday working people.

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Some of those artists are remembered as pioneers and innovators,

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others only as names on old record labels.

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But their recordings reveal a rich tapestry of cultures.

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And Americans of all kinds could finally hear one another

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in their myriad languages,

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melodies and rhythms.

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Here are some of their stories.

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In the first decades of the 20th century,

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one of the most popular genres of American music

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came from the islands of Hawaii.

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Hawaiian ensembles toured across the country and around the world.

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All featuring a unique instrument -

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the steel guitar.

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Its soaring sound would become central

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to a dazzling range of styles.

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# Well, I'm going away now, honey

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# And I ain't never

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# Coming back no more... #

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# Why can't I free

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# Your doubtful mind

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# And melt your cold, cold heart? #

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But who invented the steel guitar...

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..and first explored its quantum tones?

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My name's AlyssaBeth K Archambault,

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and my great-uncle is Joseph Kekuku,

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the inventor of the Hawaiian steel guitar.

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When Joseph was 11 years old,

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he happened to be walking down a railroad track with his guitar

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and he picked up a metal bolt,

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and he made his way down the tracks and, at some point,

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the bolt hit the strings of the guitar

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and it made the sound that caught his ear.

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Following his accidental discovery,

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Joseph Kekuku spent hours in the metal shop at Kamehameha School

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perfecting a slide.

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Adding steel strings to his guitar

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and raising them from the fret board,

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he created an instrument that would travel the world.

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He was only 11 years old,

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and that is pretty young to be so devoted

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to creating something new that didn't exist.

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So when I hear the steel,

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it brings back memories of my uncle.

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He worked to perfect that sound.

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Then he taught it at Kamehameha Schools,

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and all the students there were taking the lessons.

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And then they went home to their separate islands,

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and they taught it to those that were on the islands,

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so it really spread fast.

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He mastered the Hawaiian steel guitar for seven years

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and he taught his cousin, Sam Nainoa,

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how to play the steel guitar.

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On a rare, self-issued recording,

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Sam Nainoa explains the origins of the steel guitar.

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'Ladies and gentlemen,

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'this is Sam K Nainoa speaking,

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'a real native.'

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Since the origination of the Hawaiian guitar by my cousin,

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Joseph Kekuku of Laie, Oahu,

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no-one has ever come forward to explain the intricate workings

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of this unique instrument.

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Here is the catch with the Hawaiian guitar.

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You have only one finger to reach out for your notes,

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which is the steel bar

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held in the palm of the left hand.

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I will now offer for your approval a medley of Hawaiian selections.

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STEEL GUITAR MUSIC

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In 1904, Joseph Kekuku travelled to the mainland,

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seeking a new audience.

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He teamed up with a hula dancer, Toots Paka,

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to form one of the most popular acts

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on the touring vaudeville circuit.

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He felt so inspired because he had a mission.

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So he took the mainland, he took the world,

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he never came back home.

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He was so dedicated to the Hawaiian guitar

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that he stayed in the mainland.

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-ARCHIVE NEWS REPORT:

-'No World's Fair in history was so beautiful

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'as this one at night.

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'Tens of thousands of jewels reflected all colours of the rainbow

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'from the famous tower

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'while the great fan-shaped rays from the Scintillator

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'thrilled every spectator.'

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In 1915, Kekuku and other island musicians

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performed in the Hawaiian Pavilion at the San Franciscan World's Fair,

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which attracted over 17 million visitors.

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By the following year,

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Americans were buying more recordings of Hawaiian music

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than of any other genre.

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Kekuku formed his own group and toured from coast to coast.

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Meanwhile, his invention had spread far beyond Hawaiian music.

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Country bands adapted it to play fiddle tunes.

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And black southerners made it

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one of the most distinctive sounds in blues.

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# Oh, my, oh, my... #

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And then it just took off and went all over the world.

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Not just in Hawaii - the mainland, and Europe and everywhere.

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In 1919, Kekuku travelled to London

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with a popular Hawaiian musical revue, The Bird Of Paradise.

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A worldwide smash, the show played to kings and queens,

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and inspired the international craze for Hawaiian music.

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They were in such demand.

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I mean, just like you think about Elvis Presley,

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they were more than that, in a sense.

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In the '20s and '30s, all the way up to the '40s,

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Hawaiian music was really kind of the rage.

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It's an area that's kind of cut off to itself,

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it has its own weather,

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its energy, its moisture, its pace,

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you know, its mixture.

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It's a totally different thing.

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They were just so in love with Hawaii

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and these men who played that steel guitar.

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It's a way to visualise beach,

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the sun, the beautiful paradise.

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And people in the mainland who have snow and cold

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and tornado and all that, you know,

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it took them away from all that type of natural disaster

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so they could live like, oh, wow, they're in Paradise,

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they're in Hawaii.

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Kekuku returned to America in 1927

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to discover a new wave of Hawaiian groups

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being recorded across the country,

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including Sol K Bright,

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Nelstone's Hawaiians,

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and Kalama's Quartet.

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SINGS SONOROUSLY IN HIS OWN LANGUAGE

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Joseph Kekuku's only known recordings

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are as a virtually inaudible presence on some wax cylinders

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by the Paka group. Until now.

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At a luau celebrating the unveiling of his statue in La'ie,

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we play a newly discovered record he made in London in 1925.

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His family is hearing it for the first time.

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STRUMMED UKULELE WITH STEEL GUITAR

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LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE

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I was told so taken aback to hear my great uncle recorded,

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actually recorded, his moves and his sounds.

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It was really great to hear it for the first time.

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HAWAIIAN SINGING

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I got to give Uncle Joe credit.

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If it wasn't for him, we might not have had steel guitar.

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I feel proud that I'm passing on this history of our steel guitar,

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so our kids build their own.

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They're making their own steel guitar.

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They say, "Uncle, check this one out. This is a cool steel guitar."

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"We made it! I did!" You know.

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So, we're passing on that from Uncle Joe.

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Passing the history on, of steel guitar.

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And it hit his guitar, and he made a sound.

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The bolt made a sliding sound.

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What does it sound like?

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It sounds like that.

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That is the sound of Hawaii.

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ACCORDION PLAYS

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Cajun music was born of exile.

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Made by French-speaking Acadians forced out of eastern Canada,

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who settled in the marshy Bayou country of South Louisiana.

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CAJUN FRENCH SINGING

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Through the years, they blended their old French song

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with sounds from Spain, Germany, Africa,

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the local native Americans and their Anglo neighbours.

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The result was a musical jambalaya - home-made, heartfelt,

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and infectiously danceable.

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Cajun music has always been passed down through the families.

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We learned it from our dad and uncles.

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Our grandpa played music, his dad played music.

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This music really resembles the landscape from which it's born.

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The Bayous are very crooked and winding and slow,

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just like the music can be very unconventional. It's not square.

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We call it "croche". It means crooked.

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It doesn't resemble any other music.

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There's definitely a sense of urgency and Cajun music

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from living where you love to live

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but also a lot of suffering that goes along with it

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because it's a very intense, harsh, landscape.

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The story of Cajun recording begins with one legendary family.

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The guitarist and singer Cleoma Breaux,

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her brothers - Amedee, Ophe, and Cleopha -

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and her husband Joe Falcon.

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Cleoma was really the rock of her family.

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She helped raise her brothers when their dad had left.

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She was one of the only females to play

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in a male-dominated music scene and was breaking the mould

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and making a whole new opportunity for Cajun music

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and she ended up being the first one to record.

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By 1928, record men like Columbia's Frank Walker had established

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the familiar genres of country, jazz, and blues,

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and were looking for something different.

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During a trip to New Orleans, Walker decided to explore

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the possibilities of the remote Bayou country.

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So, I went up around Lafayette and I was astounded at the interest

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that there was in their little Saturday night dances.

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Every single singer would have little concertina-type instrument

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and a one-stringed fiddle,

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and a triangle.

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Those were the instruments.

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And, of course, they sang in Cajun.

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To me, it had a funny sound,

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so I brought the group down to New Orleans

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and we recorded, just to have something different.

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Cleoma and Joe performed Allons A Lafayette,

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Let's Go To Lafayette,

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the first Cajun song to be released on record.

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The Columbia record guys weren't sure about recording

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this tiny two-piece band.

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But George Burrow, who Joe and Cleoma had brought with them,

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a local businessman, knew how popular this music would become.

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They, kind of, laughed. They say, "How many records would you order?"

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He said "500." He grabbed his cheque book and said,

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"Make you a cheque for 500 records, right now." He said, "500?"

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He say, "We never sold that many to nobody. With big orchestras."

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"How in the world could we sell 500 to just a two-piece band?"

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"Well," he said, "make it."

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And that's why we made it and it went over big.

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My grandpa and my great aunt used to tell me

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how, when they grew up in Mamou,

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they would hear that song coming out of the doors of these houses.

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Everyone was so excited to have a Cajun song on record

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because they had record players but there was no Cajun music.

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So, when Cajun music comes out on a record,

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it gives you pride about your culture and about your music.

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So, people were playing that record so often.

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They say you can't even find a record that still plays

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because everyone who had one wore it out.

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They loved it so much.

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When the Breaux family were recording this music,

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in the late '20s,

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they were really recording almost the new sound of Cajun music

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because when the German accordion became available

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in the department stores,

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the Cajuns really took to it because it was a lot louder

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and it allowed them to play to much larger audiences

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than just a house dance.

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Joe Falcon, amazing accordion player,

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learned from Cleoma's brother Amedee Breaux.

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Amedee Breaux is a legendary figure in Cajun music.

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Cleoma's three brothers, their music has so much feeling

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and so much passion

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that you just feel an incredible urgency in their music.

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And it's amazing that the Breaux family is still playing

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around Acadiana today.

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I'm Gary Breaux, I'm grandson of Amedee Breaux,

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which I refer to as Papa Medee.

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I'm Jimmy Breaux,

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the other grandson of Amedee Breaux.

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I'm Gerry Mouton,

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grandson of Amedee Breaux and I refer to him as Papa Medee.

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I'm Pat Breaux and Papa Medee is my grandfather.

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And we're the Breaux Freres up-to-date.

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Papa Medee was invited to a recording contest.

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They were in a big barn.

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He climbed up, went on the rafters,

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and walked across the rafters of the barn

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and played Allons A Lafayette,

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while he was walking across the rafters.

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So, needless to say, he won the contest.

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These were not listening rooms. These were very rowdy bar rooms.

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A lot of fighting, lots of drinking, a lot of moonshine.

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The word was, the Breaux Brothers liked to drink a lot

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and they like to fight a lot. And you feel it in their music.

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It was definitely a very vibrant music scene, to say the least.

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You know, you hear the whole stories about the dancehalls.

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They had the chicken wire around the band.

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That was supposed to keep their beer bottles

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-from flying at the band if the band was bad.

-Yeah.

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I think the chicken wire was there for the Breaux Brothers

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not to get to the audience.

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Yeah, they were something else.

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In April 1929, Amedee Breaux and his brother Ophe

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travelled to Atlanta and cut their first record

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with Cleoma on guitar.

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Cleoma brought them to record and, if she hadn't,

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we might never know what songs they had to offer

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and how much they influence Cajun music today.

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They recorded over a dozen amazing tunes in that one session.

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Which became a lot of the pillars of modern Cajun music

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and have crept their way into American mainstream music,

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such as Jolie Blonde, which was written by Amedee Breaux.

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My grandmother was not a blonde.

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I think this was an experience my Papa Medee had

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with a young blonde, and she left him.

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And it really tore him up.

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I always know it as Jolie Blonde but they called it...

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Ma Blonde Est Partie.

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Ma Blonde Est Partie.

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Yeah. That means "my blonde is gone."

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# Jolie blonde, regardes donc quoi t'as fait

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# Tu m'as quitte pour t'en aller

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# Pour t'en aller avec un autre que moi

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# Quel espoir et quel avenir, mais, moi, je vais avoir?

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# Jolie blonde, tu m'as laisse, moi tout seul

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# Pour t'en aller chez ta famille

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# Si t'aurais pas ecoute tous les conseils de les autres

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# Tu serais ici-t-avec moi aujourd'hui... #

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"Jolie blonde, jolie fille", that means "pretty blonde, pretty girl".

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Tu m'as quitte pour t'en aller. You left me for another.

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Jolie blonde, tu m'as laisse, moi tout seul.

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Jolie blonde, you left me all alone.

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It was all based on a broken heart.

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It's such a sad lament of his love life and it's such a...

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It's a song that just really touches you so deeply you could feel his

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pain and that way, you know, Cajun music really is the Blues.

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When Jolie Blonde became a hit in the late '30s,

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that was the first time that Cajun music really entered

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American mainstream.

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Over time, Jolie Blonde became known as the Cajun national anthem.

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You know, it's being performed by people as big as Bruce Springsteen,

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something that he performed nationally all the time.

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Waylon Jennings did a version of it with Buddy Holly producing it

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and playing guitar.

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# Jolie blonde... #

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Roy Acuff did it, Moon Mullican

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and they all got it from Harry Choates.

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Harry Choates made it a national hit. You know, it was on the charts.

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Harry Choates got it from Crowley's own Amede Breaux,

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that little guy right there, in 1929, recorded Ma Blonde Est Partie,

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which became known as Jolie Blonde.

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Your dad, he had Amede's accordion. Do you happen to have it?

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-I've got it right here.

-Wow.

-It's been restored.

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They had more than one accordion at these sessions and it could be

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-this accordion that actually recorded Jolie Blonde.

-Yeah.

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This is Uncle Ophe, one of the brothers,

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this is his fiddle, which Dad has kept.

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Also I have the tit fers, or the irons, that they also used.

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Cajun music is passed down through families

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and just like the Breaux family, it was the same thing for them.

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They all played it as a family.

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You're playing your traditional music, but you're also incorporating

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other elements of the music you hear around you and, you know, it's the

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natural want of any culture, especially any artist to want to be

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relevant and to want to play music that appeals to people of your day,

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but still to hold, you know, what you need to bring forward

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in your own tradition.

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# Jolie blonde, tu m'as laisse Moi tout seul

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# Pour t'en aller chez ta famille

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# Si t'aurais pas ecoute tous les conseils de les autres

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# Tu serais ici-t-avec moi aujourd'hui

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# Oh!

0:26:300:26:31

# Jolie blonde, jolie fille

0:26:430:26:49

# Tu m'as quitte pour t'en aller

0:26:490:26:54

# Pour t'en aller avec un autre que moi

0:26:550:27:01

# Quel espoir et quel avenir, mais, moi, je vais avoir?

0:27:010:27:05

# Jolie blonde... #

0:27:050:27:07

# John Henry was a steel driving man

0:27:470:27:52

# Yes, he went down Well, he went down

0:27:520:27:56

# You just take this hammer and carry it to my captain

0:28:020:28:07

# Oh, tell him I'm gone Won't you tell him I'm gone? #

0:28:070:28:11

John, we've got time.

0:28:250:28:27

Tell a little bit about how you first made

0:28:270:28:30

-a record way...way back in 1927, do you remember?

-Oh, yeah.

0:28:300:28:34

'28, pardon me, and '29.

0:28:340:28:39

Learned to play guitar, I had no teacher.

0:28:410:28:45

I was just an eight-year old boy,

0:28:450:28:48

I'd go in and go to bed, but I wouldn't go to sleep.

0:28:480:28:52

I'd get the guitar.

0:28:520:28:53

I kept on at that till I learned to play one number and I said,

0:29:000:29:05

"Wow." And when I learned to play that number, why,

0:29:050:29:09

-I didn't care who heard it then.

-LAUGHTER

0:29:090:29:13

The odyssey of Mississippi John Hurt from his original discovery

0:29:270:29:30

in the 1920s to his rediscovery in the '60s

0:29:300:29:34

is the saga of American Epic in microcosm.

0:29:340:29:37

In the abandoned hamlet of Avalon, Mississippi...

0:29:420:29:45

we meet John Hurt's granddaughter Mary Frances Hurt

0:29:450:29:49

outside the humble cabin where he once lived.

0:29:490:29:52

You know, when I talk about Avalon and you say,

0:29:530:29:55

"Oh, there's nothing there, it's just a sign,"

0:29:550:29:57

but I remember where my parents used to live and I remember all of

0:29:570:30:03

the families that used to live there,

0:30:030:30:06

the store that used to be there and the cotton gin and everything.

0:30:060:30:10

This town existed and it was a real place, real families,

0:30:100:30:13

real people lived there.

0:30:130:30:15

It was a tiny little village with three grocery stores.

0:30:190:30:25

Well, I say grocery stores,

0:30:250:30:27

the stores contained everything

0:30:270:30:30

from flowers and even mules.

0:30:300:30:34

When I was a kid, he lived above the store and

0:30:350:30:37

he would be standing always by the mailbox, just like he was waiting

0:30:370:30:41

for somebody to come up the hill.

0:30:410:30:44

And he always had this radiant smile.

0:30:440:30:47

His smile was like a pebble thrown in the lake and it would just

0:30:470:30:50

spread and it was just so wonderful.

0:30:500:30:54

People just knew him as Mississippi John Hurt, but he was Daddy John.

0:30:550:31:00

The store here was a gathering place,

0:31:020:31:06

especially on Saturday night.

0:31:060:31:08

John Hurt spent many an hour

0:31:080:31:11

playing music inside the store and on the porch out here.

0:31:110:31:15

When he started recording records,

0:31:150:31:17

it just kind of made everyone here happy.

0:31:170:31:21

In 1928, Tommy Rockwell, a producer for OKeh Records, and his

0:31:230:31:27

engineer Bob Stevens travelled to Memphis in search of new artists.

0:31:270:31:31

These are remarks from Bob Stevens,

0:31:320:31:34

the engineer who was there with Tommy Rockwell

0:31:340:31:38

in Memphis in 1928.

0:31:380:31:41

"Tommy Rockwell and I went on our field trip to Memphis where

0:31:410:31:44

"we already had some acts set up to record.

0:31:440:31:47

"Tommy told me he could take care of things and

0:31:470:31:49

"he suggested that I take a trip down the Mississippi Delta

0:31:490:31:53

"and see what I could find in the way of race stuff,

0:31:530:31:56

"then come back inland for hillbilly stuff.

0:31:560:31:59

"So I stopped in all the little towns and the local record stores

0:31:590:32:03

"to see what was going on and I wound up in Jackson, Mississippi.

0:32:030:32:06

"I thought, 'To hell with it.

0:32:060:32:07

" 'This is ridiculous!' So I suggested we organise an old-time

0:32:070:32:11

"fiddling contest, the winners would get an OKeh contract.

0:32:110:32:15

"While this was going on," Mr Stevens adds,

0:32:150:32:18

"we kept hearing about some wild Blues singer named Mississippi John Hurt,

0:32:180:32:21

"so we set out to find him. The trouble we had!

0:32:210:32:24

"Finally we tracked him down late at night.

0:32:240:32:26

"We had to put the headlights on to the door of his shack before we knocked.

0:32:260:32:30

"This guy came to the door, damn near turned white when he saw us,

0:32:300:32:33

"he thought we were a lynching party.

0:32:330:32:35

"We told him who we were and he asked us in.

0:32:350:32:37

"He threw a few logs on the fire.

0:32:370:32:39

"He took out his guitar and starts to sing.

0:32:390:32:41

"He was great! So we booked him into Memphis,

0:32:410:32:44

"he made a few sides for us and then he disappeared again."

0:32:440:32:48

Well, he didn't really.

0:32:490:32:50

In Memphis, Tommy Rockwell and Bob Stevens recorded John Hurt

0:32:520:32:56

in the McCall building.

0:32:560:32:57

# Frankie went down to the corner saloon

0:33:010:33:03

# She didn't go to be gone long

0:33:030:33:05

# She peeked through the keyhole in the door

0:33:050:33:07

# Spied Albert in Alice's arms

0:33:070:33:09

# He's my man and he done me wrong... #

0:33:090:33:14

Frankie is based on the 1899 shooting of Albert Britt by his

0:33:140:33:18

lover Frankie Baker,

0:33:180:33:20

after she caught him in bed with another woman.

0:33:200:33:22

As Frankie and Johnny, it became a popular standard,

0:33:240:33:27

recorded by Jimmy Rogers, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and Elvis Presley,

0:33:270:33:31

but John Hurt sang an earlier version closer to the true story.

0:33:310:33:36

# Frankie shot Albert and she shot him three or four times

0:33:360:33:40

# Says, stroll back, I'd smoke my gun, let me see Albert dying

0:33:400:33:44

# He's my man and he done me wrong... #

0:33:440:33:48

After the recording session, John Hurt went home to Avalon.

0:33:510:33:55

A few weeks later, he received a record in the mail.

0:33:560:34:00

The only problem, he had nothing to play it on.

0:34:000:34:03

So he had to ask the woman whose land

0:34:030:34:05

he was looking after the cows on, would she kindly play the

0:34:050:34:10

record for him, so she said, "Well, all right, John.

0:34:100:34:12

"I'll leave you standing outside the screen door and I'll crank it

0:34:120:34:16

"up for you so you can hear it," you know?

0:34:160:34:18

And she took it back and said, "Oh, that's you on that record, isn't it?"

0:34:180:34:22

That woman's daughter is Annie Cook and she remembers that day.

0:34:220:34:27

We had an old-time Victrola that you'd crank

0:34:270:34:32

and it was just unbelievable,

0:34:320:34:35

just like when we got the first car,

0:34:350:34:39

how exciting something like that was then.

0:34:390:34:43

# Frankie and the judge walked down on the stand

0:34:430:34:45

# And walked out side to side

0:34:450:34:47

# The judge says to Frankie You're going to be justified

0:34:470:34:51

# For killing a man and he done you wrong. #

0:34:510:34:54

Ain't that pretty?

0:35:000:35:01

I think it is.

0:35:030:35:05

Before long, John Hurt received a letter from Tommy Rockwell,

0:35:070:35:11

asking him to come to New York City for more recordings.

0:35:110:35:14

There he recorded one of his most popular songs, Candy Man.

0:35:150:35:20

# Well, all you ladies all gather round

0:35:220:35:24

# That good sweet candy man's in town

0:35:240:35:26

# It's the candy man

0:35:260:35:28

# It's the candy man...

0:35:280:35:31

# He likes a stick of candy just nine inch long

0:35:400:35:42

# He sells as fast a hog can chew his corn, it's the candy man

0:35:420:35:46

# It's the candy man. #

0:35:460:35:49

Homesick and lost in the big city, Hurt composed Avalon Blues,

0:35:520:35:57

a heartfelt tribute to his hometown.

0:35:570:36:00

# Got to New York this morning just about 9.30

0:36:010:36:05

# Hollerin' one mornin' in Avalon Could hardly keep from crying... #

0:36:090:36:13

Hurt returned to Avalon picking up odd jobs to survive

0:36:150:36:20

and waited to hear more from OKeh,

0:36:200:36:23

but the Depression hit and the entire record business fell

0:36:230:36:27

on hard times.

0:36:270:36:29

Hurt wrote to the company in New York offering to make new recordings.

0:36:290:36:32

His letters went unanswered.

0:36:320:36:34

For 35 years, he eked out a living by sharecropping and minding cows,

0:36:370:36:41

only playing music for his family and neighbours.

0:36:410:36:46

By the 1950s, Mississippi John Hurt's records

0:36:460:36:48

were forgotten, except by a small circle of collectors

0:36:480:36:53

searching junk store record bands for his battered 78s.

0:36:530:36:57

He had recorded 20 songs for OKeh,

0:36:570:37:01

seven of those performances have never been found.

0:37:010:37:04

# It's the candy man. #

0:37:040:37:07

Archivists like Michael Brooks have devoted their lives to preserving

0:37:080:37:13

the surviving record masters which are known as metal parts.

0:37:130:37:17

These metal parts are really part of history, because music reflects what

0:37:180:37:23

goes on in a country, in the world, and this is American history here.

0:37:230:37:29

And there were hundreds and hundreds of thousands of these made.

0:37:290:37:33

And in the Depression, metal was a good source to melt down and sell.

0:37:340:37:39

A popular tune from 1926 meant nothing in 1934,

0:37:390:37:43

so toss it out, and then the next decimation of these parts

0:37:430:37:48

came in World War II, which was far greater,

0:37:480:37:50

because everyone was looking round for scrap metal.

0:37:500:37:53

Everything went to the war effort, so a Louis Armstrong,

0:37:530:37:57

a Carter Family, a Jimmy Rogers, they were melted down,

0:37:570:38:01

given to the government and remade into weapons of mass destruction.

0:38:010:38:07

And you think, you know, there might be

0:38:070:38:08

a Mississippi John Hurt being dropped over Germany or something.

0:38:080:38:12

So there isn't that much left any more.

0:38:120:38:15

I would say that metal parts pre-, say pre-mid-30s,

0:38:150:38:20

I would say 90% is gone.

0:38:200:38:23

So we are trying to reconstruct what happened in the world,

0:38:230:38:28

what the popular music was

0:38:280:38:30

and we have to scratch around to find things.

0:38:300:38:33

In the 1950s, a few small record labels began releasing vinyl

0:38:340:38:38

compilations of rare recordings by little-known figures

0:38:380:38:41

like Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Sleepy John Estes

0:38:410:38:45

and Mississippi John Hurt.

0:38:450:38:47

This is a copy of the famous Harry Smith anthology of American

0:38:470:38:51

folk music the way it appeared when Folkways Records first published it.

0:38:510:38:54

John Hurt was represented by two cuts on that record.

0:38:540:38:58

This is the original edition.

0:38:580:38:59

It had the red cover and if you took the records out too often,

0:38:590:39:03

the edges began to split up on the ends.

0:39:030:39:07

This is from 1952,

0:39:070:39:09

this is like 1,000 years ago, it's very much a product of its time.

0:39:090:39:12

Soon adventurous young record collectors were heading south

0:39:120:39:15

in search of the artists who had made those precious 78s,

0:39:150:39:19

but Mississippi John Hurt seemed impossibly obscure

0:39:190:39:23

and few even dreamt he was alive.

0:39:230:39:24

# Avalon, my hometown Always on my mind

0:39:260:39:30

# Avalon, my hometown Always on my mind

0:39:340:39:37

# Pretty mama's in Avalon Want me there all the time. #

0:39:420:39:45

Then, one day, a collector named Dick Spotswood

0:39:450:39:49

heard a rare copy of Avalon Blues.

0:39:490:39:52

There was one John Hurt title that none of the Hurt fans, such as

0:39:520:39:56

we were in the late 1950s had ever heard, and the first thing

0:39:560:39:59

I heard was the lyric that says, "Avalon is my hometown,

0:39:590:40:03

"it's always on my mind," and so I extrapolated from that

0:40:030:40:07

that there must be a place in Mississippi called Avalon

0:40:070:40:10

and went to the Atlas to look it up, and there it was.

0:40:100:40:14

It was clear by just looking at the map that it wasn't

0:40:140:40:17

anything more than a speck on the road.

0:40:170:40:19

When another friend decided that he was going to go down to the

0:40:210:40:25

Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 1963, I looked at the map again,

0:40:250:40:29

I said, "It's not too far out of your way to stop by

0:40:290:40:32

"Avalon, Mississippi,

0:40:320:40:34

"and see if anybody has ever heard of John Hurt," and so he did and

0:40:340:40:38

the first person he asked gave him directions to John Hurt's house.

0:40:380:40:41

He goes, "Are you the person that made this sound?" He goes, "Yeah."

0:40:430:40:46

And he said, "Can you play this song?"

0:40:460:40:48

And Daddy John responded, "I could if I had a guitar."

0:40:480:40:51

And the guy had a guitar, so he played this song for him and

0:40:510:40:56

he goes, "Do you know how famous you are?" And Daddy John is like, "No."

0:40:560:41:01

You know, he was... No. He had no idea.

0:41:010:41:06

Looking for the best way

0:41:070:41:08

to introduce John Hurt to a world of new listeners,

0:41:080:41:11

Dick Spottswood managed to get him booked as a last-minute attraction

0:41:110:41:15

for the 1963 Newport Folk Festival.

0:41:150:41:18

Dick Spottswood.

0:41:180:41:20

APPLAUSE

0:41:200:41:22

I've been asked to say a few words about John,

0:41:230:41:25

so I'll make it brief as possible so you can hear him play himself.

0:41:250:41:29

When we found him this spring, he hadn't played guitar for years,

0:41:290:41:32

but he picks it up now, and plays like a champ.

0:41:320:41:35

-STRUMS GUITAR

-It's been quite a while since I...

0:41:350:41:38

did any of this, and I'm...

0:41:380:41:41

I'm real happy to be with y'all.

0:41:410:41:44

You know, I can't help but be happy.

0:41:440:41:46

Last...

0:41:470:41:49

I remember doing much of this, why, I was with the Okeh company,

0:41:490:41:53

recording for them '28 and '29.

0:41:530:41:57

So...

0:41:570:41:58

Spottswood discovered me down and out of this scene.

0:41:580:42:02

Why, I thought it was real funny, I said, "Why? What have I did?

0:42:020:42:06

"Is the FBI looking for me?"

0:42:060:42:08

LAUGHTER

0:42:080:42:10

So, the question I'm going to do you...

0:42:120:42:15

is Stack O'Lee.

0:42:150:42:16

PLAYS STACK O'LEE BLUES

0:42:160:42:19

# Police officer, how can it be

0:42:300:42:35

# You can 'rest everybody but cruel Stack O' Lee?

0:42:350:42:39

# That bad man Oh, cruel Stack O' Lee... #

0:42:390:42:44

John Hurt was the surprise hit of the festival,

0:42:470:42:50

and inspired a new generation, including the young Taj Mahal.

0:42:500:42:54

When I first heard John Hurt's music,

0:42:560:42:58

it was like he was somebody I was looking for, he was like the...

0:42:580:43:02

The musical grandfather you were looking for.

0:43:020:43:04

He had another key to the musical universe.

0:43:040:43:09

I tried real hard to learn how to play like him, you know...

0:43:090:43:13

PLAYS STACK O'LEE BLUES

0:43:130:43:17

..but then, there's tunes like Louis Collins.

0:43:440:43:46

Louis Collins is about something that happened real close to him,

0:43:460:43:49

when Louis Collins got into a fight with somebody and got shot.

0:43:490:43:53

And instead of taking it from the bar fight scene,

0:43:530:43:57

which is in the song, he talks from Louis Collins' mother.

0:43:570:44:02

And, you know, "Mrs Collins weeped, Mrs Collins moaned,

0:44:040:44:06

"Moaning for Louis Collins that's dead and gone.

0:44:060:44:09

"The angels laid him away."

0:44:090:44:11

You know, the gentleness really came through in him.

0:44:110:44:14

A record collector shot footage of John Hurt playing Louis Collins

0:44:170:44:21

in a small club in Los Angeles.

0:44:210:44:23

It's the only known colour footage of Hurt performing.

0:44:230:44:26

PLAYS LOUIS COLLINS

0:44:260:44:29

# Mrs Collins weeped

0:44:330:44:35

# Mrs Collins moaned

0:44:350:44:37

# To see her son Louis leavin' home

0:44:370:44:42

# The angels laid him away

0:44:420:44:46

# Oh, the angels laid him away

0:44:460:44:50

# They laid him six feet under the clay

0:44:510:44:56

# The angels laid him away... #

0:44:560:45:00

BIRDSONG

0:45:180:45:20

This place...

0:45:230:45:24

the sounds, the beauty of all of this, he loved that.

0:45:240:45:28

And he came early one morning just to make sure that he just caught

0:45:300:45:34

the right rays and the sun, and everything, and he...

0:45:340:45:38

He had a stroke.

0:45:380:45:39

He never recovered from this stroke.

0:45:390:45:42

And...

0:45:440:45:45

I would say it was a tragedy, but he died the way he loved,

0:45:450:45:48

and he's buried in this place.

0:45:480:45:51

He's home.

0:45:530:45:54

Daddy John is home.

0:45:550:45:56

Well, you always heard that black was beautiful,

0:46:020:46:05

and John was one beautiful man.

0:46:050:46:10

He was kind, and he was...

0:46:110:46:15

Loved people, and people loved him.

0:46:150:46:19

I just wish we had more like him.

0:46:190:46:21

PLAYS SPIKE DRIVER BLUES

0:46:280:46:31

# John Henry was a steel drivin' man

0:46:350:46:39

# Oh, he went down

0:46:400:46:42

# Well, he went down

0:46:420:46:44

# This is the hammer that killed John Henry

0:46:460:46:51

# But it won't kill me

0:46:510:46:54

# It won't kill me

0:46:540:46:56

# It won't kill me

0:46:560:46:58

# John Henry was a steel drivin' man

0:47:110:47:16

# Oh, he went down

0:47:160:47:18

# Well, he went down

0:47:180:47:21

# Well, he went down. #

0:47:210:47:23

APPLAUSE AND CHEERING

0:47:250:47:28

Well, I was. I was, because I had never...

0:47:410:47:45

You know, I made records and that was the end of it.

0:47:450:47:48

I made some records then would go back home.

0:47:480:47:51

I had never did anything more.

0:47:510:47:54

No more than just played the music round the country once in a while.

0:47:550:47:59

This music, that's right.

0:48:070:48:09

Well, I didn't know what this folk music was, and...

0:48:090:48:12

I began to...

0:48:120:48:14

kind of learn what they mean now by folk music.

0:48:140:48:17

Er...

0:48:190:48:20

I think they mean...

0:48:200:48:22

..songs that, er...

0:48:230:48:26

What I call maybe died out, you know?

0:48:260:48:30

They went back and they renewed 'em, that right?

0:48:300:48:34

Am I right?

0:48:340:48:35

Well, you know...

0:48:380:48:40

I read in the Bible, it says,

0:48:400:48:42

"The older men teach the younger ones."

0:48:420:48:45

And I'm glad I've got something that they want.

0:48:450:48:48

That's right.

0:48:480:48:50

HE LAUGHS

0:48:500:48:51

HARMONICA PLAYS

0:48:510:48:53

CHEERING

0:48:530:48:55

'Five...four...three...

0:49:020:49:04

'two... one...'

0:49:040:49:07

It's an inspiring thing, to see a launch.

0:49:180:49:20

The light flares from the rocket, but the sound travel time

0:49:200:49:23

takes a while, so the rocket starts climbing in silence.

0:49:230:49:26

Great flocks of sea birds sprang up from the mangroves

0:49:260:49:29

as the sound reached them, and so you see this craft

0:49:290:49:32

ascending from the flights of sea birds.

0:49:320:49:36

Voyager was a mission to study the outer planets of the solar system,

0:49:410:49:45

and when you fly past the giant planet Jupiter,

0:49:450:49:48

your spacecraft is accelerated to a speed such

0:49:480:49:50

that it will never return to the solar system.

0:49:500:49:53

It simply leaves,

0:49:530:49:55

and then drifts among the stars of the Milky Way galaxy forever.

0:49:550:49:59

The astronomers Carl Sagan and Frank Drake had the idea

0:49:590:50:03

that if you made a phonograph record,

0:50:030:50:06

you could put music and also encoded photos and sounds and things

0:50:060:50:10

about the Earth, and attach it to these two interstellar spacecraft.

0:50:100:50:14

I produced the Voyager record, and was involved in selecting the music.

0:50:150:50:20

The world contains many sorts of people,

0:50:270:50:30

and there is no such thing as a "best" kind of music.

0:50:300:50:35

You know, it's not the Olympics - some composer doesn't win.

0:50:350:50:39

Some of the most advanced music we have is Western classical music,

0:50:410:50:44

and there's some of that on Voyager, Bach and Beethoven -

0:50:440:50:47

those are wonderful accomplishments -

0:50:470:50:50

but as those composers themselves would have told you,

0:50:500:50:53

Bach for instance, at age 16, was a fiddler at hoedowns.

0:50:530:50:57

Beethoven was a student of folk music.

0:50:570:50:59

Music comes up from the great mass of people.

0:50:590:51:03

It comes up from everyone, the most common folks, and has forever.

0:51:030:51:08

There aren't any humans who don't participate in music in some way.

0:51:080:51:13

I came across this remarkable Blind Willie Johnson field recording

0:51:210:51:24

made in Texas in 1927, called Dark Was The Night Cold Was The Ground.

0:51:240:51:28

The melody is adopted from an old Scots hymn,

0:51:290:51:32

goes back many centuries, and was transformed by Willie Johnson.

0:51:320:51:37

In this recording, he didn't include any lyrics -

0:51:370:51:39

he just sang it as a moan over his guitar instrumental,

0:51:390:51:44

and it had a timeless quality to it.

0:51:440:51:47

It's certainly a piece about the hardship and tragedy of life,

0:51:480:51:52

and the feeling of being alone and desperate and homeless.

0:51:520:51:57

Night has yet to fall anywhere on the planet without touching

0:51:570:52:00

men and women in exactly that situation.

0:52:000:52:03

So, one of my first priorities was,

0:52:050:52:07

let's put this recording on this record

0:52:070:52:11

intended to last for billions of years.

0:52:110:52:13

MUSIC: Dark Was The Night Cold Was The Ground by Blind Willie Johnson

0:52:290:52:35

FOOTSTEPS

0:53:570:54:00

MACHINERY CHUGS

0:54:140:54:16

BUZZER

0:54:480:54:49

BLUES ARRANGEMENT OF MENDELSSOHN'S WEDDING MARCH PLAYS

0:54:550:54:58

SLOW BLUES MELODY PLAYS

0:55:080:55:11

TEMPO SPEEDS TO UPBEAT BLUES MELODY

0:55:130:55:16

# You people can talk about your kosher-rolling mamas

0:55:240:55:28

# While you're cheatin' with your high-speedin' brown

0:55:280:55:33

# Well, I got a woman way down in Mobile, Alabama

0:55:330:55:37

# She's the warmest thing in that town doggone her skin

0:55:370:55:42

# She ain't got no papa leave me alone

0:55:420:55:47

# She ain't got no big boy please take me home

0:55:470:55:51

# This mama just got

0:55:510:55:53

# One object in view

0:55:530:55:55

# And what she said to me I know she's bound to say to you

0:55:550:55:59

# She'll say

0:55:590:56:00

# Papa, if you ain't got no matrimonial inclinations

0:56:000:56:05

# Then keep your hands to yourself

0:56:050:56:09

# Daddy, if you ain't got no bungalow-made reservations

0:56:090:56:13

# Son, don't let your hands be filled

0:56:130:56:17

# Girl, I'm this red-hot papa you heard so much talk about

0:56:170:56:22

# But this is an ice bestest woman

0:56:220:56:24

# Who'll mortally put your fire out, hmmm

0:56:240:56:27

# Papa, if you ain't got no matrimonial inclinations

0:56:270:56:31

# Just keep your hands to yourself Doh-doh-doh

0:56:310:56:35

# When I first met you I had no shoes

0:56:350:56:39

# But look at me now I got these bare-footed blues

0:56:390:56:44

# Papa, if you ain't got no matrimonial intentions

0:56:440:56:49

# Please keep your hands to yourself Doh-doh-doh

0:56:490:56:53

# Papa, if you ain't got no matrimonial inclinations

0:57:180:57:22

# Please keep your hands to yourself

0:57:220:57:26

# Daddy, if you ain't got no bungalow-made reservations

0:57:260:57:31

# Son, don't let your hands be filled

0:57:310:57:35

# Well, I'm this red-hot papa you heard so much talk about

0:57:350:57:39

# But you're an ice bestest woman

0:57:390:57:42

# Who'll mortally put my fire out, hmmm

0:57:420:57:44

# Papa, if you ain't got no matrimonial intentions

0:57:440:57:49

# Oh, death, where is that sting? #

0:57:490:57:52

The third episode takes a look at the influence of Hawaiian music and more specifically, the steel guitar, which became a central sound to a range of musical styles. When Joseph Kekuku picked up a metal bolt as he wandered down a train track, the bolt hit the strings of his guitar and the sound was born. He perfected his slide to create a new instrument that would travel the world.

The programme continues with an exploration of Cajun music, the blended music of Louisiana that reflects the winding landscape of the bayous. This appealed to the record companies as something set apart from the established genres of country, jazz and blues. Central to the scene were the Breaux family, who talk about continuing their musical heritage today.

Finally we hear the story of Mississippi John Hurt - discovered in the 1920s but soon forgotten, he represents the odyssey of American Epic in microcosm. After travelling to Memphis where his music was recorded, he returned home to Avalon, a tiny spot on the map of Mississippi. With the Depression, recording in the south came virtually to a halt and Hurt simply went back to sharecropping, his music forgotten by all but a few dedicated collectors. 35 years after those first recordings, folklorist Dick Spottswood tracked down Hurt in 1963, sparking a revival of his music. He starred at the Newport Folk Festival and became celebrated all over the world.


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