Appalachian State University's Fred Hay grew up with the son of legendary singer James Brown in north Georgia. He also knew original members of The Famous Flames, the band that James Brown began his career fronting.
Hay’s upbringing inspired academic interests in anthropology and African Appalachia, but the region he knew was different from the one he found represented in scholarship. Continually, he came across books about Appalachian culture cataloged as “Mountain Whites” by the Library of Congress.
The idea of Appalachia as a diverse place – producing diverse music – is hard for some people to accept.
“There are plenty of people that say James Brown isn’t an Appalachian musician. But he’s from Appalachia,” said Hay, librarian of the university’s W.L. Eury Appalachian Collection and Anne Belk Distinguished Professor and Professor of Appalachian Studies. “What makes a person Appalachian? To be from Appalachia.”
Fifteen years ago, Hay petitioned the Library of Congress to change the standard subheading for Appalachian biographies and cultural studies. Thanks to his efforts, the go-to subheading is now “Appalachian People.”
The recognition of diversity in Appalachian music has seen an uptick since Hay – the senior ranking faculty member of the University Libraries – began his career. Forty years after he asked Toccoa, Georgia, to recognize Ida Cox, a local blues singer and vaudeville performer, the town hosts a music series in her honor. And Nafloyd Scott, the last surviving member of The Famous Flames, has also received public attention.
Hay finds the developments heartening as both a scholar and former resident there. “You don’t want to exclude voices, nor do you want to fail to recognize their influence,” Hay said. “When I was growing up, the town didn’t want to be associated. We were just emerging from Jim Crow, and people looked down on something as new as James Brown’s music. Now, they’re embracing their own.”
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About University Libraries
University Libraries at Appalachian State University contributes to the campus mission of learning, teaching, advancing knowledge, engagement and effectiveness. Belk Library and Information Commons along with the Nicholas Erneston Music Library provide academic resources for all students and faculty. Within the library, students and faculty find group and quiet study spaces, the Digital Media Studio, the inspire lab, the Idea Factory, digital devices to check out, and special collections such as the W.L. Eury Appalachian Collection and Instructional Materials Center. Learn more at https://library.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls nearly 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.