The study of Appalachian culture and history has fully emerged as an academic discipline. Yet, the field relies in some measure on those who have been immersed in Appalachian culture more as a passion than as a field of study. The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition draws on works from all over to support research and advocacy on urban Appalachian life and culture. Appalachian music historian, writer, musician and broadcaster Chuck Black is one who has lived his life within the world of Appalachian music and culture. He is both a researcher and practitioner who showcases old-time Appalachian music and plays in an old-time music band featuring Appalachian and string band music.
Chuck Black has taught courses on old-time music and hosted an Appalachian music program at Appalshop in Whitesburg, KY as part of Seedtime music festival. As Chuck says in his Cultural Resource Directory Profile, he is an advocate for music as one of the main pillar of strength of Appalachian culture.
From 2010 to 2020, Chuck Black was the voice and mind behind “The Old-Time Music Radio Show, Featuring the Country Cousins” on WOBO in Batavia, Ohio. On his show, Chuck focused on the old-time music often referred to as hillbilly music, since it precedes the label of bluegrass. These were the old songs from the 1920s like old Jimmy Rogers tunes. He spiced things up with old country songs by people like Ernest Tubbs and Ray Price. He also mixed in some Western Swing and Cowboy music from folks like Gene Autrey. This show ran strong for its ten-year span until programming changes slowed things down for Chuck Black.
After the “Old-Time Music Show” ended, Chuck Black switched over to Big Band and Swing. As Chuck told me, “I turned to what you might call the Golden Age of American Radio, that period from about 1920 to 1950.” Chuck Black’s broadcasting career operates like an archaeology of American music. He focuses on those genres and styles that shaped American Music from the first half of the 20th Century, and he combines his broadcasting skills with the mind of a scholar.
Chuck Black’s approach to music might remind you of one of those old-world scholars who trace an idea or even a word back through history as far as possible. When he finds something that strikes him, he teases out as much information as he can find: “I go to the record stores, and when I find an old record, I research the album, the songs, and the history of the people playing on the recording,” explains Chuck. The music is just one part of the picture for Chuck Black. A recording is a cultural artifact that opens up a historical project. Chuck Black writes these histories and backgrounds, some of which have been posted on the UACC website.
Chuck Black comes to this quite naturally. His paternal grandparents and his father were born in Pulaski County, Kentucky and the sounds of Eastern Kentucky were part of the fluid of life for him. Later, upon discovering his father’s record collection, his musical tastes and interests began to branch out. Said Chuck, “My father was an officer in World War II and had a great love of the Big Band and Swing of that era. He especially loved Glen Miller’s Army Air Forces Band and had several records.” With the influence of his father, Chuck began delving into this end of the musical spectrum.
After graduating high school in 1964, Chuck Black and a friend did something of a wanderers’ tour of Kentucky and immersed themselves in music. As Chuck tells it, “me and a buddy spent the entire summer on the road, exploring music all over the state, mostly in Eastern Kentucky.” This period of his life shaped his interests in traditional music and the culture in which it is embedded. In later years, Chuck had the opportunity to enroll in a seminar with UACC core member Mike Maloney that took them to Pippa Passes, Kentucky. During that time, Chuck said, “I got to meet Loyal Jones and the author and mountain philosopher Verna Mae Slone.” These experiences still drive much of what Chuck Black does. He regularly attends traditional music festivals throughout Kentucky and other part of the Appalachian region like Merle Fest and the American Folk Song Festival.
Like the rest of us, so much of what Chuck Black does has been slowed down by the pandemic. From music festivals to changes in his broadcasting work, the pandemic has hampered things. But Chuck is back on the radio again at WMKV, the radio station for Maple Knoll Village. He does the Golden age of Radio Show playing Big Band and Swing. Chuck did say that he has some aspirations for his new gig at WMKV: “It is too early to say for sure, but I hope to carve out some air-time for old-time music again. We’ll have to see.” With the new radio show and tentative plans for some kind of revival of the old-time music show, we’ll be hearing plenty from Chuck Black in the coming months. And he is still searching out those gems in the record stores as much as circumstances will allow.
Chuck Black brings the rigor of a scholar and the passion of an artist to his life-long love of old-time and Appalachian music. The dedication of people like Chuck Black form part of the bedrock of the preservation and promotion of Appalachian music and culture and part of how the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition serves the urban Appalachian communities. You can find Chuck Black’s profile on the Cultural Resource Directory at this link: https://uacvoice.org/artist_profile/chuck-black/.
If you are an urban Appalachian creative and you would like to sign up for the Cultural Resource Directory, click on this link: https://uacvoice.org/signup/. Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.