musical lives, remembered in story & sound

Emma Lee Dickerson -- 6. Legacy


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 Emma Lee’s playing is preserved, her legacy made, in a number of recordings, housed in archives in Kentucky. In home recordings made by Quentin and Carl Brickey, and by friends of Emma Lee’s, at jam sessions, she can be heard playing a few fiddle tunes, backing up her friends as they sing.

And, on one side of a tape, she can be heard, playing guitar and singing, no holds barred, high and lonesome, in duets with Quentin. Those recordings are at the Morehead State University Archives. Truly magnificent singing, there.

At Berea, she can be heard, playing fiddle tunes, Quentin playing his unique fingerpicking style of guitar, backing her up. She plays Billy in the Lowground, Blackberry Blossom, Cross Key, Katy Hill, Leather Britches, Liza Jane, Sally Goodin, Susan’s Gone, Texas John, Wagoner, Wild Horse are available online, on the website of the archive at Berea College, in Berea, Kentucky. The recordings, Dickerson’s unique version of tunes common to that area, were made in 1973, by an ethnomusicologist, Barbara Kunkle, who had visited her at her home in Ashland.
She played in the “true East Kentucky” style, says noted Lewis County fiddler Roger Cooper. A style, which, he said, she mastered “better than any of those guys I’ve heard.” Cooper, who learned tunes from a locally renowned fiddler, the late Buddy Thomas, heard two of those tracks which were featured on a collection released by Rounder Records in 2007, entitled “Along the Ohio’s Shore: Fiddle Music Along a Great River.” The CD, a collection of 38 fiddle tunes played by 18 different musicians who lived along the shores of the Ohio River, is in a vein of Rounder Records releases of archival material, among them, three other volumes of Kentucky fiddle and banjo music. John Harrod and Mark Wilson, who also wrote extensive liner notes for the collection, put the collection together; they included the music of some of the most notable musicians from that area, presenting material already public in archives, for the purpose of greater education, to those who purchase the CD. Emma Lee, a part of that collection, and, the only woman on it. As Carl reflected, “now when I grew up, Emma Lee was the only fiddler I can remember offhand that was a woman.”
And, what a fiddler. Carl, as our interview came to a close, said: “To me, she was a loveable precious person. She was a special person. She was fantastic on that fiddle.”