AiM Receives Commission Initiative Grant for Music Preservation
Stanton Littlejohn of Eastview Tennessee (Above) was an amateur fiddle player and avid tinkerer. The Littlejohn String Band played at events and gatherings in the county and according to his family, Stanton always had a penchant for new gadgets and technologies. Little did they know that these two interests would combine to preserve a unique part of McNairy County's rich musical heritage.
Starting in the mid 1940s, Littlejohn made dozens of recordings on 8 & 10 inch acetate recording discs from his Eastview, TN home. He had, some time earlier, happened upon a recording device and thought it would be interesting to hear what his friends, family and neighborhood musicians sounded like on record. Eventually, word got out that Littlejohn was making the discs and musicians from around the area found their way to his Eastview home and makeshift studio.
Though Littlejohn reportedly charged nothing for his services, he had an understanding with everyone who recorded for him. In almost every case, two recordings were made; one for the artist and one for Littlejohn's archive. Consequently, Littlejohn family members have retained a number of these early recordings in various conditions. These fragile acetate or wax recordings, as they are sometimes called, span approximately ten years and provide a revealing glimpse of McNairy County's musical interests from the period. Captured on this wonderfully diverse collection are string bands, bluegrass, folk, gospel groups, solo instrumentalists and even an early form of what would later be called rockabilly music.
In July, Arts in McNairy was notified that the organization would be the recipient of a Commission Initiative Grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission for the 2010-11 fiscal year. The generous grant will allow AiM to contract the services of Middle Tennessee State University's Center for Popular Music to preserve the contents of the Littlejohn recordings. "Documenting heritage is a priority of the Folklife Program at the Tennessee Arts Commission, and we're delighted to be able to support a project dealing with such a unique resource," said Dr. Robert Cogswell, TAC Folklife Director. "I look forward to hearing what's on the records that survive from Mr. Littlejohn's life passion, and to seeing how Arts in McNairy can put these recordings to educational use."
A proposal was submitted to TAC earlier this year and Dr. Cogswell, a musician himself, strongly advocated for the preservation partnership between AiM, MTSU and TAC. "The Littlejohn recordings are a rare window into the regional music of West Tennessee in a past era," he noted. "Arts in McNairy deserves commendation for recognizing their value to local culture and taking the initiative to preserve them." The current owners of the Littlejohn recordings, Marjorie and Don Rayburn Richard, also deserve a great deal of credit for keeping the collection intact and enthusiastically cooperating with these efforts. Remastering of the records will begin later this year.