- Ola Belle Reed and Southern Mountain Music on the Mason-Dixon Line by Henry Glassie, Clifford R. Murphy, and Douglas Dowling Peach
The book and two CDs that make up Ola Belle Reed and Southern Mountain Music on the Mason-Dixon Line are the product of partnerships and collaborations that have spanned decades and traversed state lines. As the title indicates, the primary focus is the eponymous old-time musician and songwriter; both the first CD and the seven chapters that constitute part 1 of the book—largely recorded and written by Henry Glassie—center on Reed herself. Glassie developed a fieldwork relationship with the musician during the mid-sixties. Reed had just turned 50, and Glassie, then a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, was half her age. Over a period of about 18 months, the young folklorist interviewed Reed at length. The tapes he made of her music include Reed’s first professional performances as a solo artist.
Ola Belle Reed (1916–2002) may be best known for having written “High on a Mountain Top,” which was a hit for Marty Stuart in the early nineties, but she was an acclaimed old-time performer in her own right. She was born Ola Wave Campbell in Lansing, North Carolina, an Appalachian mountain community that was strongly engaged with its music. Many members of Reed’s family were musically inclined. Her father, uncle, and aunt had enjoyed local success as members of The New River Boys and Girls, a band named after a river that runs close to Lansing. Reed was still a child when she learned to play banjo and guitar. Her younger brother Alex showed similar aptitude, and the siblings would go on to share a long-lasting musical partnership.
Beginning in the 1930s, economic necessity forced many inhabitants of the Southern Appalachian Mountains to migrate to the tri-state area of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The Campbell family became part of this outflow, and they resettled in northeastern Maryland. Shortly thereafter, Reed began working as a professional musician. In 1948, by which time she had changed her name to Ola Belle, she and brother Alex formed their own group called the New River Band.
Following marriage to musician Bud Reed in 1949, Ola Belle, Bud, and Alex established the New River Ranch, a country music park at Rising Sun, Maryland. Seven years later they moved on to become the house band at a not-dissimilar outfit in Sunset Park in Pennsylvania, where they remained for more than two decades. They also ran a shop in the nearby town of Oxford. Campbell’s Corner, as it was known, was quite the hub: a general store that served the local, largely rural population; the headquarters of a country and gospel music mail-order business; the home of a recording studio and record label; and the venue for a Sunday afternoon live radio music show that aired for many years on WCOJ, “the Voice of Chester County” (p. 20). For a spell during the 1960s, Campbell’s Corner also provided the backdrop for another live broadcast, which began at midnight as Saturday rolled into Sunday. This show went out on WWVA, and the West Virginia station’s powerful 50,000 wattage ensured that Reed reached a swath of new listeners just as the folk revival movement was gathering pace. She began receiving invitations to perform at colleges and folk music festivals. Increasingly admired and acclaimed, Reed went on to make four albums that were released on the folk-oriented labels of Rounder and Folkways during the seventies. In 1986 she was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship.
Henry Glassie was among those whose introduction to Reed came courtesy of that late-night WWVA show, on a Sunday early in...