Day 134: The Ozark Folksong Collection



Today I attended the opening ceremonies of the Ozark Folksong Collection here at the University of Arkansas. It’s an absolutely amazing digital collection that’s taken about 6 years of hard work to build. It centers around the work of Mary Celestia Parler, who I’ve mentioned many times here, she was one of the best Ozark and Arkansas Folklorists around, and I’m thrilled that her collection is being given so much care and attention.

Here’s a little blurb about Mary Parler from the Ozark Folksong Collection website:

“The primary collector of these works, Professor Mary Celestia Parler, was born in 1904 in Wedgefield, South Carolina.  She graduated in 1924 from Winthrop College in Rock Hill, South Carolina, with a degree in English literature, and then earned a master’s degree in English in 1925 from the University of Wisconsin, with a concentration on Chaucer.  She came to Arkansas in 1948 for research on her dissertation dealing with southern dialects and soon began teaching in the University of Arkansas’s English Department.  In 1949 she undertook the University of Arkansas Folklore Research Project which continued under her supervision and that of her successors, especially Prof. Robert Cochran, director of the Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies.  Mary Parler was a founder of the Arkansas Folklore Society in 1950.  In 1962 she married Vance Randolph, generally recognized as the foremost authority on Ozark life.  Parler was featured in the 1954 CBS documentary called ‘The Search,’ which depicted her search for the origins of an Elizabethan ballad, ‘The Two Sisters.’  After Randolph’s death in 1980, Parler returned to South Carolina, where she died in 1981.

“As a faculty member in the UA English Department from 1948 to 1975, Parler taught classes in Chaucer and folklore.  With her field assistant, Merlin Mitchell, and students, she traveled throughout the Ozarks between 1949 and 1965 to make field recordings of Ozark folksongs on reel-to-reel audio tapes.”

The discussion panel I attended today featured several students of Mary Parler who shared what she was like and the work that they all did while in her folklore classes. For me it was great hearing intimate, personal stories about the people whose work I look and work with on a daily basis. Although I never knew Mary Parler and Vance Randolph, the stories told today made them come to life again, if only for a moment.

Here is the link to the Ozark Folksong Collection online. I recommend it to music lovers and anyone interested in Ozark and Arkansas folk studies.

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