The Ozark Folksong Collection is Now Online

Mary Celestia Parler and an informant; University of Arkansas Special Collections flickr page

[Last fall Art of the Rural launched Middle Landscape, a series of projects that combine releases of artistic and cultural material with digital work and on-the-ground action to facilitate a collaborative space that creates relationships between ideas, individuals, and communities. Directed by Art of the Rural Founding Member Rachel Reynolds Luster, the Mary Celestia Parler Project inaugurated this series with a weekend of events at the Fayetteville Roots Festival, alongside fellow collaborators The Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies, and the University of Arkansas Special Collections department. This project is an ongoing effort to raise awareness of Parler’s body of work including engaging the public through audio releases, performance and exhibits, and educational outreach that reintroduces Parler’s materials in the communities in which she and her students originally worked.]


It’s not every day that we have the opportunity to crack a treasure trove, but today we do. Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville has been hard at work digitizing the collection of Mary Celestia Parler, a folk song collector and scholar who traipsed Arkansas and the larger Ozarks for over three decades. The Ozark Folksong Collection is now available online with some exceptions. Here you can learn a history of the collection that Parler, her field assistants, and students amassed from 1949 to 1965 as well as listen to digital versions of their original field recordings and view the original transcriptions. While the title highlights Parler’s work in the Ozarks, there is a rich breadth of Arkansas materials from the river valley, delta, and southwest Arkansas as well. Here you can find a stockpile of old-time fiddle tunes, ballads, and more including interviews with former slave Charlotte Stephens, Arkansas’ first African American public school teacher, a young Ronnie Hawkins, of the Hawks, a precursor to The Band, and Jimmie Morris, who would become Jimmy Driftwood, one of Arkansas’ most notable folk singers and characters, as well as recordings of two of Arkansas’ National Heritage Award winners, ballad singer Almeda Riddle and cowboy singer Glen Ohrlin.

hawkins spec coll

The next MCPP event will be held at the Boone County Library in Harrison, Arkansas on March 26th at 5pm. I will be offering a presentation about Parler and playing some choice cuts from the Ozark Folksong Collection highlighting recordings made in Harrison, including local stage show performs Bill and Toby Baker and members of Ashley’s Melody Men, a sting band that recorded for Victor Records in the 1920s and 30s and hailed from Harrison. This event ties in with the Arkansas Fiddlers Convention held March 26-29 at the North Arkansas College Campus in Harrison. The convention brings musicians from Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and more together where they take over the campus of NOARK and fill every classroom, hallway, and available nook and cranny with fiddle music ranging from Texas Swing to hardcore Ozarks Old-Time.

Folks can follow The Mary Celestia Parler Project on Twitter @ParlerProject to keep abreast of upcoming events and announcements.

— Rachel Reynolds Luster

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