African American Music and Musicians in Appalachia


African-American musicians have lived in, contributed to, and influenced Appalachian music communities since the introduction of the banjo and early work songs and chants through modern blues, jazz, gospel, pop and rock music. While many of these musicians have been documented for their individual achievements, it wasn’t until recently that they have been considered collectively in terms of the Appalachian region. John C. Campbell’s definition of Appalachia will serve as the border. A good map of the included counties can be found by state or the entire region at This pathfinder will provide an introduction to the resources available for these musicians in the W.L. Eury Appalachian Collection at Appalachian State University and the Western North Carolina Library Network. A comprehensive bibliography is available in Black Music Research Journal, v 24, no. 1 (Spring 2004), online access available via Appalachian State University here.

Introductory Text: 

An introduction to this topic appears in the special Appalachian issue of the Black Music Research Journal,  v. 23, no. 1/2 (Spring/Fall 2003) :

African-American Music of Appalachia / Guest Editor, Fred J. Hay. Chicago : Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College, c2005. (Click here for library catalog record and to request this title).

Library of Congress Subject Headings: 

Highly Relevant :

  • Blues Music Appalachian Region
  • Blues Music Appalachian Region Southern
  • African Americans - Appalachian Region - Music - History and criticism
  • African Americans -- Appalachian Region, Southern -- Music

Also Relevant :

  • African American musicians - North Carolina
  • African Americans - Southern States - Music
  • African Americans - Southern States - Music - History And Criticism
  • African Americans - Alabama - Music
  • African Americans - Alabama - Birmingham - Music
  • African Americans - Georgia - Music
  • African Americans - North Carolina - Music
  • African Americans - Tennessee - Music
  • African Americans - Virginia - Music
  • African Americans - West Virginia - Music
  • Armstrong, Howard, 1909-
  • Baker, Etta, 1913- -- Interviews
  • Blues Music North Carolina
  • Blues Music South Carolina 1961 1970
  • Blues Music Southern States
  • Blues Music Southern States History And Criticism
  • Blues Music Virginia
  • Blues (Music) -- Virginia -- Discography
  • Brown, James, 1928-
  • Colored sacred harp
  • Davis, Gary, 1896-1972
  • Dixie Hummingbirds
  • Gospel music -- Virginia -- Discography
  • Jackson, John, 1924-
  • Jackson, J. (Judge), 1883-1958
  • Minstrel shows -- Appalachian Region
  • Simone, Nina, 1933-
  • Smith, Bessie, 1898?-1937
  • Sun Ra
  • Sun Ra -- Criticism and interpretation
  • White, Josh

More General :

  • African American musicians
  • African Americans - Music
  • African American prisoners - Music
  • African American singers
  • African Americans - Alabama - Music - History And Criticism
  • African Americans - Music - Bibliography
  • African Americans - Music - Discography
  • Banjo Appalachian Region
  • Blues Music
  • Gospel Music
  • Jazz
  • Music - Appalachian Region Southern
  • Spirituals (Songs) -- Southern States
  • Shape note singing -- Alabama -- History and criticism

Related :

  • Gospel music -- Bibliography
  • Music African Americans History
  • Music African Americans History And Criticism
  • Spirituals (Songs) -- Bibliography
Clipping Files Subject Headings – W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection: 

Black Musicians
Smith, Bessie

Library of Congress Call Numbers: 
  • ML 3556
  • ML 3521
  • ML 3188
  • ML 3545
  • ML 419
  • ML 200.7
  • ML 156.4
  • ML 420
  • ML 410
  • MT 582
  • ML 394
  • ML 128
  • ML 125
  • ML 200
  • ML 390
  • ML 1015
  • ML 1711
  • ML 3477
  • ML 3557
  • ML 3551.7
  • M 1629
  • E 185
  • PN 4308

Bastin, Bruce. Red River Blues : The Blues Tradition in the Southeast . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, c1986. ML3521 .B39 1986.

Conway, Cecelia. African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia: A Study of Folk Traditions . Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, c1995. ML3556 .C667 1995.

Special Appalachian issue of the Black Music Research Journal , forthcoming summer 2004.

Various authors. Black Appalachia [sound recording] : String Bands, Songsters and Hoedowns . Cambridge, MA: Rounder Records, p1999. CDisc #399 liner notes.

Guides, Encyclopedias, and Dictionaries: 

New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians , 2nd Edition, Grove, Ancient times-present, Full Text (updated regularly). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians is the most comprehensive scholarly encyclopedia of music in English. Coverage of music of all times and places.


African American Music in General:

De Lerma, Dominique-René . Bibliography of Black Music. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981. ASU MUSIC REF: ML128.B45 D44 v.1.

Floyd, Samuel A, and Marsha J. Reisser. Black Music in the United States: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Reference and Research Materials . Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus International Publications, 1983. WCU GENERAL: ML128.B45 F6 1983.

Haywood, Charles. A Bibliography of North American Folklore and Folksong . New York, Greenberg [1951]. ASU REFERENCE: Z5984.U6 H3x.

Jackson, Irene V. Afro-American Religious Music: A Bibliography and a Catalogue of Gospel Music . Westport, CO: Greenwood Press, 1979. ASU MUSIC REF: ML128.S4 J3.

Johnson, James P. Bibliographic Guide to the Study of Afro-American Music . [Washington] 1973. ASU MUSIC REF: ML128.A4 J6x.

Skowronski, JoAnn. Black Music in America: A Bibliography . Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1981. ASU MUSIC REF: ML128.B45 S6.

Spencer Jon Michael. As the Black School Sings : Black Music Collections at Black Universities and Colleges with a Union List of Book Holdings . New York: Greenwood Press, 1987. UNCA REFERENCE: ML128.B45 S7 1987.

Szwed, John F., and Roger D. Abrahams. Afro-American Folk Culture: An Annotated Bibliography of Materials from North, Central, and South America, and the West Indies . Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, c1978. WCU GENERAL: GR103 .S95 pt.1.

Specific Appalachian African American musicians :

Albertson, Chris. Bessie . New York, Stein and Day 1972. (p. 243 - 244). ML420.S667 A7 1972.

Simone, Nina; Stephen Cleary. I Put a Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone . New York: Da Capo Press, 1993. UNCA GENERAL, ML420.S5635 A3 1993.

Szwed, John F. Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra . New York: Pantheon Books, c1997. (p. 409 - 425). ASU MUSIC STACKS: ML410.S978 S73 1997.

Tilling, Robert. “Oh, What a Beautiful City”: A Tribute to the Reverend Gary Davis (1896-1972): Gospel, Blues, and Ragtime . Jersey [Channel Islands]: Paul Mill Press, 1992. (p. 121 - 123). ML419.D386 O4 1992.

Wald, Elijah. Josh White: Society Blues . Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, c2000. (p. 325 - 327). ML420.W48 W35 2000.

Younger, Richard. Get a Shot of Rhythm and Blues: The Arthur Alexander Story . Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2000. ML420.A5825 Y68 2000.

Zolten, J. Jerome. Great God A’mighty!, The Dixie Hummingbirds: Celebrating the Rise of Soul Gospel Music . Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. (p. 338 - 346). ML394 .Z65 2003.

Online bibliography :

Appalachian Classic Blues Singers: Bessie Smith.

Abstracts and Indices: 

International Index To Music Periodicals (IIMP), Chadwyck-Healey,1990-present (updated quarterly). IIMP contains citations from about 400 music periodicals from twenty countries. IIMP covers both scholarly and popular articles about music.

RILM Abstracts of Music Literature , FirstSearch, 1969-present (updated quarterly). The RILM database contains over 200,000 citations on international music and covers all aspects of music, including historical musicology, ethnomusicology, instruments and voice, dance, and music therapy.

Search for general music :

“African American Appalachia”


Search for musicians :

  • “Armstrong, Howard”
  • “Baker, Etta”
  • “Brown, James”
  • “Cox, Ida”
  • “Davis, Reverend Gary”
  • “Diamond Teeth Mary”
  • “Dixie Hummingbirds”
  • “Jackson, John”
  • “Martin, Carl”
  • “McGhee, Brownie”
  • “Simone, Nina”
  • “Smith, Bessie”
  • “Sun Ra”
  • “White, Josh”

Living Blues. Chicago, IL: Living Blues Publications. ASU MUSIC JRNL/BND.

Black Music Research Journal , Chicago: Institute for Research in Black American Music, Fisk University, c1981-. ASU MUSIC JRNL/BND.

Blues & Rhythm, the Gospel Truth . London : P. Vernon & M. Quinlan. ASU MUSIC JRNL/BND.


Brooks, Edward. The Bessie Smith companion: a critical and detailed appreciation of the recordings . Wheathampstead, Herts, UK: Cavendish Pub. Co.; New York, NY, USA: Da Capo Press, 1982. WCU GENERAL: ML420.S667 B7 1982.


Other Sources: 

There are many audio and video recordings available in the W.L. Eury Appalachian Collection and the Western North Carolina Library Network. Please see separate list of musicians and available recordings.

Compiled by: 

Compiler: Mark Freed, 9 November 2003