Saturday, September 25, 2010

Appalachian music themes at Radford University

Strange coincidence... I just discovered that the RU InterLibrary Loan department I've been using a lot this summer is also home to another banjo player who recently began blogging about Appalachian musical culture under the library's auspices.

Bud Bennett's first few entries look great, from highlighting the library's music collection to pointing out the existence of County Sales in Floyd, an old-time-music record distributor that he and I both discovered, as Bud says, "Back in the mid-to-late 1970s, far from the New River Valley..." (He links to a Roanoke Times story about County that I missed a couple of weeks ago.)

Running into Bud's blog (while on an Interlibrary Loan visit to the library's website) reminded me that I've been neglecting this blog... even more than I've been neglecting my other five or six blogs and Websites.

The most recent things I've posted about music have been some tweets about a local journalist-musician's (highly recommended) new book, which I'll recommend to Bud by posting them here again:

Ralph Berrier's reading at the Radford Public Library even had yodeling! And applause for it -- and his writing...

Rave for Ralph's book: "No matter. If he has yet to master the fiddle, he rarely hits a false note on the page."

Local journalist fiddler finds fame & WSJ byline with 'If Trouble Don't Kill Me' Book Excerpt -

Speaking of trouble... This week's Roanoke Times headline about an Appalachian music fan with a Radford University connection was less celebratory, but at least it does have a happy ending:

The university is officially yanking the name off one wing its arts and music building, the part that has been called Powell Hall from one end (and Porterfield Hall from the other).

A few years before I got here, an Appalachian Studies class at the university pointed out that the building's namesake John Powell, along with being a composer and champion of Appalachian music, was a notorious racist.

Plans to drop the name were postponed along with plans to renovate the building, until a call from a Roanoke Times columnist reminded the performing arts school's dean of the issue recently, calling Powell, "a terrible and persuasive racist whose work harmed uncounted Virginians."

Dean Joe Scartelli, now acting provost, got the Board of Visitors to act quickly (if belatedly), officially dropping the name last week. I hope the university facilities folks and website editors scrub it away soon, without whitewashing the historical fact that the school let the name stand for 43 years. Was the naming of the building a conscious act of "whiteness" in 1967? That was a big year in the Civil Rights movement, with an important Virginia case before the Supreme Court, the ironically named "Loving v. Virginia," and a future publisher of the Roanoke Times and Radford board member -- covering the "Mississippi Burning" case for The New York Times.

For anyone not familiar with RU and its arts facilities, here's one last coincidence or bit of irony: While plans to renovate Porterfield/Powell were on hold, the school built a fine new performing arts center next door and named it for Douglas & Beatrice Covington.

Along with being a patron of the arts, Dr. Covington, Radford's fifth president, was the first African-American to head a predominantly white university in the Commonwealth of Virginia.