MMSeries#55/ Recorded 88-90/Morganton, NC
Sisters Cora and Etta Reid, born in 1907 and 1913, grew up in the Johns River township of Caldwell County, North Carolina, a place where the foothills of the Piedmont transform into the escarpment of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Their parents, Boone and Sallie, claimed European American, African American and Native American ancestry. The diverse heritage of the family has been acknowledged for generations by members of the Johns River community and even by federal Census takers, who have listed her father¹s family as mulatto as far back as 1850. Partly because of their background, the Reid family socialized and made music with both white, African American, and mixed race families within Caldwell County.
Boone Reid, who gave his daughters their first lessons, was well versed in both mountain string band music and early blues. Boone played banjo, fiddle, guitar, harmonica, and Jews harp and organized a family string band that featured Etta on fiddle, Cora on guitar, and himself on banjo. On many weekends the family walked to neighbors¹ houses in and around Johns River to make music. They were also paid to play dances for businessmen and their families who would retreat from the nearby town of Lenoir to cabins on Wilson¹s Creek for a weekend of leisure and entertainment. Etta eventually gave up the fiddle and later in life took up the banjo, in part as a tribute to her father.
By Etta¹s accounts Boone Reid was also an extraordinary guitar player. He learned much of his style and repertory in Caldwell County though early blues like Spoonful, that he re-titled Carolina Breakdown, were heard when the family was living near Chase City in eastern Virginia. Other tunes that Etta learned on guitar from her father include Never Let Your Deal Go Down, Crow Jane, Dew Drop, Railroad Bill, Bully of The Town, John Henry, and Round My Back Door Selling Coal. Like all great artists, Etta has made these pieces her own by adding new twists and turns. She has also added to this repertory by learning more modern pieces and even composing songs like Broken Hearted Blues.
The recordings on this CD were made during a period when Etta had left her job at a textile mill and was devoting her time and creativity to her music. We hear a master musician with amazing facility and technical abilities rendering a wide variety of tunes and songs with a warmth and maturity. Though age had diminished Cora’s dexterity, she could still perform three separate picking styles on guitar, two of which are featured on the duets she performs with Etta.
This recording helps us glimpse the complex origins and development of both Appalachian string band and Piedmont blues music. Perhaps more important, it conveys how powerful these traditions are when carried on by master artists who are part of a deep family legacy of music making.
Etta Baker has received the National Heritage Fellowship from the National
Endowment for the Arts and the Folk Heritage Award from the North Carolina Arts Council. She and Cora have been featured together and separately on sound recordings, documentary films and videos, and in performances at venues such as the National Folk Festival at Wolf Trap and the 1984 World’s Fair in Knoxville,