Oral histories with people sharing food and dance traditions in east Kentucky.
Paulina Vazquez Gover, of Letcher County, Kentucky, shares about growing up dancing ballet folklórico Mexicano, how she became involved in Cornbread and Tortillas, and why it matters.
“What better way to bring people together and to laugh and to talk about connections than music and dance and things that we all love.”
For full interview transcript see: Paulina Vazquez Interview
Rebecca and Michael Cornett of Perry County, Kentucky, talk about growing up on Liberty Street in Hazard. Becky pays tribute to her mother, Lily May Richmond, and the way Lily May expressed dignity and hospitality through food.
“At Christmastime, everybody… that was in town would come to Lily May’s house because she made them welcome, she would have a hot pot of coffee on, she would have goodies to eat. She would have homemade candies and cookies and cake. She would have that turkey and dressing smelling. She’d have the aroma of holiday, festive holiday. So they would come and she would make them welcome, they would set at our table, we would respect them, they would eat with us, we’d play games, we’d sing, laugh, dance.”
For full interview transcript, see Rebecca and Michael Cornett Interview
Darlene Campbell, of Letcher County, Kentucky, shares about the history and present of food, dance, and music at Campbell’s Branch/Line Fork Community Center.
“One of the goals for Campbell’s Branch Community Center is to be home to everyone, for everyone to be welcome. Just if you are going home to see your mother, your father, your brother, sisters, aunts, cousins, that’s what it feels like when you come here.”
For full interview transcript see: Darlene Campbell Interview
Randy Wilson, Folk Arts Director at Hindman Settlement School in Knott County, Kentucky, shares stories of returning home and discovering music and dance in east Kentucky, including memories of the Carcassonne Square Dance.
“The important thing is to be together.”
For full interview transcript see: Randy Wilson Interview
Beverly May, from Floyd County, Kentucky, shares about the intersections of health care, activism, and music in her life and tells the story of the beginning of the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School.
“People come from Cowan Creek and from Australia this year and from all over. And, I think it’s had a huge impact on really doing what it was supposed to do, which is bringing eastern Kentucky’s old time music back from the brink of extinction. So, it’s a really vibrant, living tradition right now.”
For full transcript see: Beverly May Interview
Debbie and Corbett Mullins, retired restaurant owners in Knott County, Kentucky, share memories of the candies, cakes, and gingerbread their mothers made as well as the origins of Knott County’s Gingerbread Festival.
“I can remember my Grandma Ashley, she was a good gingerbread baker and I can remember people coming to her and asking her, “Nancy,” this was politicians would come to her and say, “Nancy, I want you to make me two or three batches of gingerbread. And I want you to go to the election grounds on election day and pass it out to people coming in to vote in my name: ‘Here’s you some gingerbread, just remember to vote for so-and-so for sheriff or judge or whatever.'” In essence, it was buying votes, but back then, it wasn’t looked upon as anything illegal, it wasn’t frowned on, it was just the way that people done it. So, Knott County has had a long, long tradition of being a very politically minded county. So when it come time to, I guess, cast about for a theme for a festival, the gingerbread and the handing it out on election day, just sort of all come together. And that’s how the gingerbread festival came to be called what it is.”
For full transcript, see: Debbie and Corbett Mullins Interview
Bill Best is a seed saver who grew up in Haywood County, North Carolina and has called Berea, Kentucky home for over fifty years. Bill shares about his family history with saving seeds that led him to a lifetime of trading seeds. The full interview also includes stories of dance from square dances growing up to formal study of modern dance and aquatic arts.
“Well, what I’ve discovered over the years is that, of course I grew up in Western North Carolina, near the Indian reservation, and some of my early beans that were given to me by family and friends were given to them by Cherokees, people of Cherokee descent… Some of the friends, people who’ve become my friends who are seed savers from way back, claim Cherokee heritage. I just think that we need to be very thankful for them, Cherokee influence. Not just the Cherokee, but the Indians of a thousand years ago. I guess there were more than the Cherokee during that time, but I think the Cherokee were the ones who spread the most broadly, most intensively.”
For full transcript, see: Bill Best Interview
Glenn Webb, of Mayking, Kentucky, shares stories with his long time friend Seth Long, a maple syrup farmer, about harvesting maple syrup when he was growing up. During the interview, Glenn shares other family memories of making soap, preserving food, moonshining, as well as working at the nearby RC Cola plant for forty-five years.
“It taste like sugar, man. Maple sugar, maple sugar. And I’d take a cake of that to school with me every day. And I reached in my pocket, bite it, I’d eat it all day long.”
For full transcript, see: Glenn Webb Interview
Fred James, of Prestonsburg, Kentucky, shares stories of his Great Aunt Edith Fitzpatrick James, a musician, teacher, and advocate for folk arts who organized the Kentucky Highland Folk Festival starting in the 1960s.
“We as a people, whatever stage of life that we are in, we must pause at some part of the day or week or a period of time during a year to experience our history, experience our culture and our heritage through festivals, foods, vendors, occasions. We need to participate in that. And develop the means to perpetuate all of the culture that we’ve had.”
For full transcript, see: Fred James Interview
Bennie Massey, from Harlan County, Kentucky, shares about the “All Purpose Sauce” he learned from his mother and the importance of taking care of one another during the 2017 Dumplin’s and Dancin’ event at Hindman Settlement School.
“I learned a lesson from the sauce. If you work together and do it right, do everything the right way, you know, you can help each other and you can learn how to be concerned of each other. And, it just, I think God put us on this earth to work together as one.”
For full transcript, see: Bennie Massey Interview
Joyce Whitaker, from Letcher County, Kentucky, shares about the dancing she was a part of with her husband Charlie Whitaker at Pine Mountain Settlement School, Alice Lloyd College, and Carcassonne Community Center.
“The dancing that I talked [about], they did the hoedown. It’s something called flatfooting. They do that. Just any type of thing that they’ve ever done. And a lot of the older people in their younger days had done this, you know. It was just fascinating to me to watch them… I knew I wasn’t doing what they did. But it doesn’t matter though. If the music is moving you and you want to dance, whatever you do is good.”
For full transcript, see Joyce Whitaker Interview
Kristin Smith, of Whitley County, Kentucky, shares the story of The Wrigley Taproom, including the different people and places that have inspired her unique culinary style, rooted in both Appalachian and Chinese traditions.
“That’s my point of reference and that’s kind of like my foundation of cooking is Appalachian food and Chinese food. And so, those are my two comfort foods and when I really, really cook from the heart, it’s often with those two hybrids woven together.”
For full transcript, see Kristin Smith Interview