The sound of music, the songs of our history

Published 1:29 am Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Coming in, you hear them playing. It takes you back to a time that younger generations didn’t even know existed.

A twang from a banjo from the 1800s playing a song that was popular way before many of us were alive.

When Jim and Joyce Cauthen play, they play a living history, a history of Alabama.

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As executive director of Alabama Folklife, Joyce Cauthen has spent a majority of her life researching the history of our state.

“We support people that document tradition” said Cauthen about her organization.

Their passion began when Jim and Joyce met each in their 20s. They used to go to a festival called Horsepens 40 which brought in old-time music and fell in love.

The pair plays in two bands — “Red Mountain” and “Flying Jenny” — and they tour the country playing dance band sounds that were from 1800s to the early 1900s.

This passion led them to begin digging up artifacts and stories from older musicians. They met with people, they researched archives and listened to old recordable devices to gain more knowledge of the music of our state and how it come to mold into what we consider bluegrass today.

Their passion helped them gather and play the songs of old. Past favorites such as “Shortnin’ Bread,” “Candy Girl” and “Forked Dear” brought back many memories from the older people that were in the audience at the Demopolis Public Library.

Now, Cauthen and her husband try expand the knowledge of older Alabama through their organization.

“We do arts and crafts, labor lore, food tradition and others,” Joyce Cauthen said.

As a matter of fact, Cauthen has been working on food more and more lately.

“I am about to be working in Sumter County about barbecue,” she said.

Jim, on the other hand, has taken to the research of the fiddle makers, going to famous fiddle makers and interviewing them and how they make those fiddles.

The pair also travels around teaching others of their research. At Tuesday’s lunch at the library the couple demonstrated the older music they love so much and how it was influenced by the blending of African American and Caucasian sounds. They gave examples of old play styling such as “straw-beating” which was the act of taking a piece of straw and playing along with a fiddler to make music. Cauthen talked about the history of musical progression with the fiddle in the sound and they played pieces from the eras.

The Cauthens were able to bring history of alive for those in the audience and will do so for many more audiences to come.