I had the good fortune to spend a few hours this past Sunday with Donna Ray Norton at her childhood home in Sodom. Donna is one of a small group of young people who continue to sing the ancient ballads that Madison County and Sodom are noted for. She is an 8th generation ballad singer and has a voice to die for. You can listen to her on this video that was produced by the Knoxville News Sentinel about seven years ago.
In 1916, Cecil Sharp, the British musicologist, arrived in Madison County with his assistant, Maud Karpeles, where he collected more ballads than anywhere else in his travels through the southern mountains. He famously claimed that people in Madison County were more comfortable singing than speaking. His work resulted in the definitive volume: English Folk Songs from the southern Appalachians, which was published in 1934. This fall Mars Hill University will mount an exhibition to celebrate the Cecil Sharp Centennial as part of their annual Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival, which will run from September 26 to October 21, 2016, with an opening reception on October 1 from 5-6 pm during the Festival.