The Mix: Ozark Mountain Music

Jun 6, 2011

KSMU's Seldom Heard Music, one of the station's longest-running programs, first aired in 1982, with host Mike Smith offering a complex mix of bluegrass, old-time and traditional Ozark music, the likes of which hadn't been heard on the Ozarks' airwaves since the 1950s. It was undeniably music that was "seldom heard" outside the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. Harry Moore, another collector in the genre, joined the show in 2004.

As one historian put it, "[Traditional Ozark music] is Irish music, and it's not; it is Appalachian music, and it's not. It runs between those cultures and adds elements of others — it's very distinct, but not in ways that are easily defined or captured."

Legendary Ozarks folklorist and performer May Kennedy McCord explained it more succinctly, when asked to define a folk song.

"Ye never heerd a horse sing, did ye?" she quipped, meaning that, in Ozarks parlance, a "folk song" is merely what folks sing.

Bluegrass, coming into being in the 1940s, is considered the child of the older traditions, and runs heavy in the mix. Its bright rhythms and brisk pace entertain the musicians as well as the fans. But always within the mix are the older themes, the turns of phrase, the adding of an extra beat when you find a note you really like, the hard-driving chop that breaks free of the established rhythm pattern, the lapse into modal structure when least expected, the sudden turn of a dance tune into something intensely personal. This is the older and wilder mountain tradition asserting itself. Listen for it in this collection, 60 percent of which is the best of Ozark mountain music and bluegrass. Perhaps it will speak to something older and wilder, and intensely personal, in your own heart.

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