Academic journal article The American Music Research Center Journal

The Ben Gray Lumpkin Collection of Colorado Folklore

Academic journal article The American Music Research Center Journal

The Ben Gray Lumpkin Collection of Colorado Folklore

Article excerpt

Professor Ben Gray Lumpkin, who retired from the University of Colorado in June of 1969, spent more than twenty years of his academic career amassing a large collection of folksongs in the state of Colorado. At my request, Professor Lumpkin provided the following information concerning his life and career:

Son of John Moorman and Harriet Gray Lumpkin, I was born December 25, 1901, in Marshall County, Mississippi, on a farm about seven miles north of Holly Springs. Grandpa was a Methodist circuit rider, but had to farm to eke out a living because his hill-country churches were too poor to support his family.

Because we lived too far from the Hudsonville school for me to walk, I began schooling under my mother until I was old enough to ride a gentle mare and take care of her at school-at the age of 8. When my father bought a farm in Lowndes County, Mississippi, my brother Joe and sister Martha and I went to Penn Station and Crawford elementary schools. Having finished what was called the ninth grade, I went to live with my Aunt Olena Ford, and finished Tupelo High School in 1921, then BA, University of Mississippi, 1925. I worked as the secretary and clerk in the Mississippi State Department of Archives and History (September 1925 to March 1929) and in the Mississippi Division office of Southern Bell Telephone Company (March 1929 to August 1930). I taught English and other subjects in Vina, Alabama, High School (August 1930 through January 1932). I took graduate work and taught part time in the University of Mississippi (January 1932 to June 1935), where I received my MA in June 1935. I taught English at the Uni- versity of Mississippi, 1935-1937. I was a graduate student and did part-time teaching at the University of North Carolina, 1937- 1944, where I finished my PhD in 1944. During World War II, I wrote technical manuals for the U.S. Quartermaster General's Office at Camp Lee, Virginia, 1944-1948 [sic]. I then taught English and folksong classes at the University of Colorado, 1946, until I retired in June, 1969.

I first learned folksongs sung by Fletcher Simms, a Negro wage hand on our Lowndes County farm, while he worked in the corn and hay fields. One of his songs reflected the length of our work days. Papa insisted that all of us work from sun up to sun down. So, on long, hot summer days, just as the sun began to set, Fletcher would sing loud enough for Papa to hear him-even half a mile away:

Captain, Captain, look where dat morning sun done gone - Way below that western horizone.

He would draw out the second line to make it match in time the first. Fletcher also sang many stanzas from the traditional blues songs that were popular between 1910 and 1920. One goes something like this:

I'm gonna buy me a pistol,

As long as I'm tall;

I'm gonna shoot fo Delta,

Just to see her fall.


I'm gonna a buy me a pistol,

And a box of balls;

I'm gonna shoot Jimmy John,

Just to hear him squall.

I first heard folksongs called folksongs in 1922, when my English teacher at Ole Miss (Professor Arthur Palmer Hudson) invited us to hear John A. Lomax sing Western cowboy songs in the Old Chapel. He made the rafters ring with "I'm Wild and Wooley, and Full of Fleas," "Whoopee, Ti, Yi, Yo, Git Along Little Dogie," and others-such fascinating songs that I took $1.25 of my board-bill refund that spring and ordered his book from MacMillan. I treasured that book, but it got away while I was teaching at the University of Colorado. Though I heard the school children of Vina, Alabama, school singing folksongs, I was not alert enough to record them. During my first summer at the University of North Carolina, I elected to take Professor Arthur Palmer Hudson's course in American folksongs.

At the University of Colorado my interest naturally led me to establish a folksong course in the English Department during the spring of 1947-a course that I continued to teach both on the Boulder campus and frequently at the Denver Extension until my retirement in 1969. …

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