I recently discovered this great banjo player and old-time singer from Kentucky called Morgan Sexton. Born in 1911 in Eastern Kentucky, he lived the tough life many mountain people encountered during the 20th century, surviving through the Depression and hard times, working with the land and in the coal mines but enjoying the sweet relief and joy of music and dance shared with his fellow neighbors. Mr. Sexton had a unique banjo-playing style, using a two-finger picking approach with thumb and index and using many different banjo tunings to play the many old-time tunes and songs of his repertoire. On his recordings made when he was past 75 years old and struggling with black lungs and cancer, he sang with a gentle and soft voice with a strong mountain accent, giving each of his performances a very intimate feel. He won a National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1990 and made a few recordings for the June Appal label. A documentary about his life can be watch on line on the Folkstreams website.
Most interesting for me, it includes some great versions of many songs found on Harry Smith’s Anthology. As you certainly know already, I have a whole blog dedicated to the Anthology called “The Old, weird America”. I do a bit of research about every Anthology track, providing some other recordings by the artists and some variations on the songs.
Here are the tracks (in bracket is the name of the song as it appear on the Anthology):
- -John Henry (Gonna die with my hammer in my hand)
- -Old East Virginia (East Virginia)
- -In London City where I did dwell (The Butcher boy)
- -Old grey Beard (Old shoes and leggings)
- -Sugar Baby
- -Froggy-Went-a Courtin (King Kong Kitchie Ki-me-o)
- -Little Frankie (Frankie)
- -Omie Wise
-You can purchase “Shady Grove” on the Appalshop website