The Grigg Family and the Taylor-Griggs Melody Makers: The History of a North Louisiana String Band
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18 The Grigg Family and the Taylor-Griggs Melody Makers The History of a North Louisiana String Band —Monty Brown This article originally appeared in the 1988 volume of Louisiana Folklife. Here, Monty Brown recounts the history of an Ark-La-Tex musical family extending back into the 1870s. The family’s oral history is fascinating in its own right, even more so as it includes encounters with prominent figures in radio and recording. Moreover, the Grigg story relates how one family in northwestern Louisiana experienced transformations of life resulting from the early twentieth-century revolutions in media and transportation. Whereas the Griggs drove a horse-drawn wagon to their first gig as a family band, they traveled by automobile for their first recording session in Memphis, held under the auspices of the famed hillbilly, blues, and gospel record producer Ralph Peer. They learned much of their repertoire via the phonograph recordings they purchased at the local furniture store and performed this music over KWKH during the 1920s, from the studios of station owner W. K. Henderson’s country estate. This part of the story offers a window of insight into KWKH’s importance long before the era of the Hayride. The Taylor-Griggs’ recorded legacy provides a brief but colorful look at one string band in northwest Louisiana at the beginnings of the “hillbilly” music industry. We see the Griggs navigate the different demands of local performances in schools and churches, and the changes in those performance practices exacted by radio and records. As Brown explains, Peer’s concerns over copyright make this small body of recording not likely their best work; even so, the story of how they came to be recorded makes listening to those sounds all the richer. GRIGG FAMILY AND TAYLOR-GRIGGS MELODY MAKERS 19 On July 16, 1988, during the performance of Louisiana Saturday Night at the Natchitoches-Northwestern Folk Festival, Ausie Grigg, Sr., was presented an award in recognition of his place in Louisiana musical history. The KWKH Country Music Pioneer Award was presented by singer Dolly Parton on behalf of the Shreveport radio station, which carried the show “live,” and the Louisiana Folklife Center. KWKH holds a unique position in the history of country music in northwest Louisiana. During the late ’20s and early ’30s, pioneering days of radio, owner W. K. Henderson started to program local and regional musicians, most of whom played some form of “hillbilly” music. In those days KWKH’s signal could easily be heard over most of the United States, and very often, beyond. The signal was not stronger then, but there were far fewer competing signals. Anything broadcast reached a very wide audience, and mail poured in from all over the continent. Henderson himself used the airwaves as his own private pulpit, holding forth freely and helping define the Federal Communications Commission’s standards of decency. Though Henderson is largely forgotten, his efforts as a country music pioneer live on through KWKH. During the 1930s, KWKH began broadcasting live shows along the lines of the Grand Ole Opry; Saturday Night Roundup was cancelled by the disappearance of talent during World War II, and after the war, in 1948, the Louisiana Hayride was established. The Hayride ran for about fifteen years at the Municipal Auditorium in Shreveport, and has continued sporadically ever since. As of October 1988, there were still plans afoot to re-establish the Hayride, which is undoubtedly one of the most influential institutions in the history of country music. The Pioneer Award presented to Ausie Grigg, Sr., was in recognition of the contribution he, his family, and his fellow players were making two decades and more before the inception of the Louisiana Hayride. With the Griggs, it has always been a family affair. The Griggs trace their American ancestry back to Charles City County, Virginia, near Jamestown, in the seventeenth century. In a classic migratory pattern , they moved gradually southwest. By the mid-eighteenth century, they had moved about fifty or sixty miles; then came the first long jump to Polk County, North Carolina, where Ausie’s great-grandfather, Wesley Jackson Grigg, was born in 1818. Ausie’s father, Robert Crowder Grigg, was born in North Carolina in 1870. The family moved to Louisiana in the fall of 1873; by train from Shelby, North Carolina, to Vicksburg, Mississippi; by ferry across the Mississippi, and by stage coach to Trenton (West Monroe). From there they traveled by covered MONTY BROWN 20 wagon drawn by four...


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