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Music of the Ozarks: The Gordon McCann Ozarks Music Collection

A guide to research materials and special collections (including the Max Hunter Collection and the Gordon McCann Collection) available at the Missouri State University library

About Gordon McCann

Gordon McCann (Charles Gordon McCann) was born August 27, 1931, the only child of Charles Albert McCann and Jadah Marie Trowbridge. Though born in Joplin, Missouri, he has always lived in Springfield. As a boy McCann enjoyed listening to different kinds of music including big band music and country music, and he especially remembers listening to radio station KWTO which featured country artists. He enjoyed floating in johnboats on the region’s rivers, one of the activities that led him to develop a deep love for the Ozarks. He graduated from Springfield Senior High School in 1949, married Mona Gayle Pearce in 1952, and graduated from Southwest Missouri State College (now Missouri State University) in 1954. The couple has two children, Abba Gayle and Charles Pearce.

In 1930 McCann’s father started a Springfield blueprinting business, which he eventually passed on to his son. McCann became a successful businessman managing the Springfield Blueprint and Photocopy Company, and in the mid-1970s devoted more time to his personal interest in regional history, folklore, and most of all music. He developed a large personal library of regional materials, and developed friendships with folklore collectors Vance Randolph (1892-1980), Max Hunter (1921-1999), and others. McCann co-authored with Vance Randolph volume two of Ozark Folklore: An Annotated Bibliography, published in 1987. McCann became especially interested in regional music, and enjoyed playing guitar at jam sessions such as Emanuel Wood’s Ozark Opry in Ozark, Missouri. At that weekly jam session he met fiddler Art Galbraith (1909- 1993), with whom he later performed professionally for seventeen years.

In the 1970s, McCann also began to make audio recordings of the music at gatherings such as jam sessions, fiddle contests, house parties, and festivals, first to learn guitar chords better and then to document the music more fully. Among the fiddlers he documented extensively during the 1970s were Glen Rickman, Emanuel Wood, Lonnie Robertson, Art Galbraith, Raymond Campbell, Jude Herndon, Tilford Jones, Alton Jones, and Bob Holt. Before long McCann had established himself as one of the most knowledgeable people about traditional music in the Missouri Ozarks, and was called on to speak at the meetings of organizations such as the Missouri Folklore Society. In 1978 he began to perform locally and nationally with fiddler Art Galbraith. Their venues included the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the San Diego Folk Festival, the 1984 World’s Fair, the National Folk Festival at Wolf Trap, and a long list of Midwest locations connected to the Mid-America Arts Alliance. In the early 1980s the duo recorded two albums—Dixie Blossoms and Simple Pleasures—with Rounder Records. They continued to perform together until Galbraith’s death in 1993.

McCann formally retired in 1996, and he became deeply involved in projects related to Ozarks folk music. Highlights include: between 1995 and 2000, McCann and Mark Wilson co-produced six Rounder CDs featuring traditional Ozarks fiddle music; in 2008, he co-authored with Drew Beisswenger a book titled Ozarks Fiddle Music; and from 1999 through the present McCann has been co-producing a video magazine at MSU called OzarksWatch. For his far-reaching work, he was awarded a Missouri Arts Award in 2002, and an Honorary Doctorate from Missouri State University in 2010. His work has been featured in numerous articles, including one in the nationally-distributed The Old-Time Herald. He served as a panelist, speaker, or consultant for organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Missouri Arts Council, the Missouri Folklore Society, the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Delta Queen Steamboat Company. He also helped to organize and promote concerts and festivals that featured Ozarks music at Springfield’s Library Center, Missouri State University, and elsewhere.

Over a period of close to forty years, McCann has recorded music gatherings, as well as programs and lectures related to the Ozarks. He built a collection of thousands of his own fieldwork recordings, fieldwork recordings from other people, and commercial recordings. He kept detailed fieldwork notes and database entries for each tune or event. His FilemakerPro database includes over 73,000 entries, most of which are about fiddle tunes, and his fieldwork notebooks contain over 8,700 pages. His scrapbooks of photos and flyers comprise almost 30,000 pages. The current inventory includes approximately 3,000, the vast majority of which are individual audio cassettes.

Biography courtesy of Drew Beisswenger

 

Listen to the Field Recordings!

Connect to the Gordon McCann Ozarks Folk Music Collection on YouTube

There are currently over 800 of McCann's field recordings available through the Missouri State University Libraries YouTube channel. This represents about one quarter of his audiovisual collection. The recordings have been digitized "as is" (with no editing) to allow researchers complete access to extemporaneous comments and side conversations.


Additional notes from Drew Beisswenger, co-author of Ozarks Fiddle Music (Mel Bay, 2008):  McCann typically left his tape recorder on throughout events, thereby capturing conversations, responses to his questions, and other information that would be useful to ethnographers studying the events. While McCann rarely initiated formal interviews with planned questions, we know from his field notes that he often took the time to obtain names, locations, and other information from the people he recorded. A guitarist with a gregarious personality, McCann tended to engage people in conversation quickly. In the earlier years of his fieldwork, he explained to people that he was recording so he could learn the correct guitar chords, thereby giving musicians a justification for allowing him to record. Over a period of almost forty years, McCann recorded approximately 3,000 audio or video cassettes of documentation, typed over 8,000 pages of field notes, created over 70,000 database entries, and generated approximately 30,000 scrapbook pages containing photographs and flyers.