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Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Bound for Tennessee: Researching and Writing about Music in the American South

Third-year PhD student Allan Symons.
Allan Symons

This September I find myself in the very fortunate (but slightly surreal) position of travelling to the US for a research trip. I’m headed to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which is approximately 30 miles from Nashville and will be staying with a history Grad student named Michael Fletcher who has very kindly offered me a room for the duration of my stay. Murfreesboro is the home of Middle Tennessee State University, an institution where Michael studies and also where I’ll be conducting archival work in the Center for Popular Music. During my time at MTSU I will be presenting my own research to the history faculty at a brown bag lunch that the faculty have very kindly organised. Again, this is a slightly surreal, but nevertheless very exciting opportunity to share my work with an audience of academics in the southern States.

The working title of my thesis is “Guns, Knives, and Troublesome Wives: Male Control, Misogyny and Murder in Commercial Roots Records of the Interwar Period.” As the title of the thesis may suggest, my research focuses on commercial roots records in the 1920s and 1930s. Much of this music sought to denigrate southern womanhood and punish transgressive females for “improper” behaviour that threatened the stability of traditional gender roles at the time, and quite often these behavioural traits had a racial dimension in southern culture.

My trip to Tennessee will enable me to access the first-rate archive that is the Center for Popular music at MTSU. The archive houses the Charles K. Wolfe Audio Collection: a collection of recorded interviews with artists and record company personnel active in the industry during the interwar period. Working with these materials will be both a privilege and most certainly a boon with regards to my ongoing research. However, the excitement doesn’t stop here. Whilst in Tennessee, I’m also heading to Nashville (it would be rude not to!)  for a number of reasons. Located in the heart of Nashville, The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum also has an excellent archive, and whilst there I’ll be working with historian John Rumble and archivist Becky Miley on materials that are imperative to my own work.

On a separate but related note; I’m told that Nashville is home to such wretched places as Honky Tonks: venues where folk gather, listen to music, eat BBQ, drink, and even dance. Whilst many may prefer to glean their knowledge of such places from the experiences of others, I find it’s best to experience these things first-hand!! Suffice to say, this promises to be a great trip and a wonderful way to begin the final year of what has been an equally wonderful period of study at Northumbria University.

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