Library notes: ‘Come Gather ’Round Good People’ podcast out Feb. 28
Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 5, 2022
By David Lamanno
I still carry the memory of the first time I really heard a folk song. One Sunday evening in 1981, Casey Kasem was on my clock radio nearing the end of his Top 40 Countdown. It was suddenly time for a “flashback.”
Casey dug into the vault and pulled out a copy of “Tom Dooley” by the Kingston Trio. During the late 1950s’ uninhibited rock and roll era, the clean-cut Kingston Trio managed to sell 6 million 45 rpm records featuring folk instruments — and singing a murder ballad, no less.
I was transfixed. How could such a song be? It was haunting yet …catchy.
For me, a musical circle of sorts has closed these many years later. On Feb. 28, the second episode of Rowan Public Library’s podcast, “Come Gather ’Round Good People” will be available at SoundCloud.com (type your search exactly like this: bit.ly/RPLSoundCloud). The title of the episode is: “Frank Proffitt and his Pretty Crowing Chicken.” Frank Proffitt happens to be the musician who first shared Tom Dooley with the world. More on that later.
In keeping with one of Rowan Public Library’s goals to foster lifelong learning and enriching lives, the quarterly podcast, Come Gather ’Round Good People, is dedicated to informing listeners about the stories behind highlighted folk songs with a local, regional, or state-wide connection. Each topic is thoroughly researched and presented as a narrative accompanied by a tuneful soundtrack. The episodes conclude with a musical performance of the featured song. Episodes one and two showcase the singing talents of Kim Dinkins. Kim is a children’s associate at RPL Headquarters in Salisbury. If you are familiar with public radio, then you’ll be accustomed to the format of the podcast. Episodes clock in at under fifteen minutes. Now back to that chicken.
Frank Proffitt was a banjo and dulcimer player who spent most of his life in Watauga County, North Carolina, in an area then called Pick Britches. In the mid-1930s, Proffitt struck up a friendship with Frank Warner, who was a folklorist from New York looking for material. One of the songs Proffitt sang was entitled “Tom Dula” (locally pronounced as “Dooley”). Twenty years later, the wider world learned of Proffitt’s contributing role in transmitting the folksong. The attention suddenly placed on the “old songs” helped Proffitt see their cultural value. He became a song catcher himself and began collecting songs from relatives and friends, including his ailing aunt. “The Pretty Crowing Chicken”, an ancient English ballad, was one of the songs she taught him. We hope you listen to the podcast to learn more about Frank Proffitt and whether that crowing chicken did more harm than good.
While you are waiting for episode No. 2, be sure to listen to the first episode of Come Gather ’Round Good People (bit.ly/RPLSoundCloud). The episode examines the writing of the rail disaster song, “The Wreck of the Old ’97,” and how the legal dispute of original authorship went all the way to the Supreme Court. The tune mentions Spencer as the next destination for the doomed mail train and a 1924 recording of the song would become country music’s first million-selling record.
So, come gather ’round good people and listen to our song — on a clock radio or otherwise!
If any readers know of Rowan County-based musicians who perform traditional music and who would like to share their stories, contact David.Lamanno@rowancountync.gov