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The Ballad of Shirley Collins at the Birthplace of Country Music

Contributed • Apr 28, 2019 at 6:48 PM

Bristol, Tenn./Va.- Folk singer Shirley Collins' haunting soprano made an indelible mark on the English folk music revival of the 1960s and 1970s. Silenced by a rare vocal disorder and personal trauma, Collins spent decades in the shadows before making a triumphant return with a new recording in 2016.

May 2 at 6:30 p.m. the Birthplace of Country Music Museum will explore her fascinating journey - and resilient comeback - with a screening of a documentary film about the singer, The Ballad of Shirley Collins. The film is a meditative and carefully textured portraiture of one of the 20th century's most important singers of traditional songs and features interviews with a number of notable personalities including comedian Stewart Lee, Appalachian singer Sam Amidon, and David Tibet of Current 93.

"When all other forms of music have gone, folk music will still be there," said English graphic novelist Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta). "These unique voices, unique songs that would not have survived if it were not for Shirley. She has kept that entire tradition alive."

Known for her strong ideas on preserving the integrity of the music, Collins demonstratively refused to embellish her performances. She believed folk music belonged to the working class people who created it, and delivered the songs in the simple manner in which they would have traditionally been sung.

Collins' journey with Alan Lomax to America's rural Deep South in 1959 to collect songs is one of legend, resulting in hours of recordings that featured performers such as Almeda Riddle, Bessie Jones, Hobart Smith, Wade Ward, Charlie Higgins, and Fred McDowell. The songs were issued under the title Sounds of the South; some were featured in the Coen Brothers' 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?

"The trip that Shirley Collins made with Alan Lomax is a story that not many people know about," said musician Jeff Tweedy (Wilco). "It's a pretty incredible story and it resulted in some of the greatest field recordings ever in the history of American music. And the fact that she was there for that is fascinating to me."

Tickets to see The Ballad of Shirley Collins documentary at the museum are $5 and can be purchased online through the Events page at BirthplaceOfCountryMusic.org.

About the Birthplace of Country Music Museum:

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, explores the history of the 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings and their lasting impact on our music heritage. From the Bristol Sessions and beyond, our region continues to influence music around the world.

The 24,000 square foot museum is located at 101 Country Music Way (corner of Moore & Cumberland Streets) in Historic Downtown Bristol, Virginia. Through multiple theater experiences, film and sound, and interactive, technology-infused displays—along with a variety of educational programs, music programs, and community events—the exciting story of this music and its far-reaching influence comes alive. Rotating exhibitions from guest curators and other institutions, including the Smithsonian, will be featured throughout the year in the Special Exhibits Gallery.

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. through 6:00 p.m. and Sunday, 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays and most major holidays; call ahead for clarification at 423-573-1927. Admission is $13.65 for adults, $11.55 for seniors, students, military, children ages 6—17, and groups of 20 or more. Children 5 and under are free. Admission prices include Virginia admission tax.

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