Bristol Sessions

Updated: February 28, 2011

The Bristol sessions were among the earliest and most successful attempts to make field recordings of rural musicians in Appalachia.

The Bristol sessions were among the earliest and most successful attempts to make field recordings of rural musicians in Appalachia. The 1927 sessions took place over two weeks starting July 25 in Bristol, Tennessee, and were produced by Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company. All  told, seventy-six performances by nineteen different groups were recorded that summer in Bristol. These recordings show- cased the full range of music popular in Appalachia during the early twentieth century, including old popular and vaudeville songs, traditional mountain ballads and songs, fiddle and banjo tunes, blues, and gospel songs.

Peer had invited some previously recorded musicians to these sessions, including Ernest V. Stoneman of south- west Virginia. When a newspaper reported that Stoneman was paid for his services, Bristol was inundated with musicians from Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Among those who auditioned and recorded for Peer in 1927 were two acts that emerged as among the most important in the history of country music—the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. A. P. Carter, his wife, Sara, and his sister-in-law, Maybelle, were from nearby Maces Springs, Virginia. Rodgers, from Meridian, Mississippi, had moved to the Asheville, North Carolina, area after being diagnosed with tuberculosis; initially performing on WWNC radio, he joined forces temporarily with a group of Bristol-based musicians called the Tenneva Ramblers, though he recorded as a solo act at the sessions. Among other notable performers at the 1927 Bristol sessions were gospel singers Alfred G. Karnes and Ernest Phipps and traditional singer and banjo player B. F. Shelton, all from eastern Kentucky; West Virginia–born protest singer Blind Alfred Reed; and banjo- fiddle duo J. P. Nestor and Norman Edmonds, from Hillsville, Virginia. Witnessing the popularity of some commercial releases from the 1927 sessions, Peer returned to Bristol the next year for a second round of field recording sessions.

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MLA Style

"Bristol Sessions," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2017, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 21 Aug 2017 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=43>

APA Style

"Bristol Sessions." (2017) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved August 21, 2017, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=43

Ralph Peer