Sarah Jane Nelson, Max Hunter Biographer, To Speak

Sarah Jane Nelson, Max Hunter Biographer, To Speak

Cover of book on Max HunterThe Missouri State University Libraries and the Springfield-Greene County Library District are collaborating again to organize and host a free public talk by Sarah Jane Nelson, author of a forthcoming biography of Max Hunter.

Ballad Hunting with Max Hunter: Stories of an Ozark Folksong Collector, from the University of Illinois Press, is described in the blurb:

“A traveling salesman with little formal education, Max Hunter gravitated to song catching and ballad hunting while on business trips in the Ozarks. Hunter recorded nearly 1600 traditional songs by more than 200 singers from the mid-1950s through the mid-1970s, all the while focused on preserving the music in its unaltered form.

Sarah Jane Nelson chronicles Hunter’s song collecting adventures alongside portraits of the singers and mentors he met along the way. The guitar-strumming Hunter picked up the recording habit to expand his repertoire but almost immediately embraced the role of song preservationist. Being a local allowed Hunter to merge his native Ozark earthiness with sharp observational skills to connect–often more than once–with his singers. Hunter’s own ability to be present added to that sense of connection. Despite his painstaking approach, ballad collecting was also a source of pleasure for Hunter. Ultimately, his dedication to capturing Ozarks song culture in its natural state brought Hunter into contact with people like Vance Randolph, Mary Parler, and non-academic folklorists who shared his values.”

The talk will be held soon after the book is published, currently scheduled for release in late January of 2023. 

The Max Hunter Collection is an archive of almost 1600 Ozark Mountain folk songs, recorded between 1956 and 1976. A traveling salesman from Springfield, Missouri, Hunter took his reel-to-reel tape recorder into the hills and hollows of the Ozarks, preserving the heritage of the region by recording the songs and stories of many generations. As important as the songs themselves are the voices of the Missouri and Arkansas folks who shared their talents and recollections with Hunter.

Between 1998 and 2001, the materials on this website were digitized and transcribed from Max Hunter’s original reel-to-reel tapes and typewritten lyrics. The project was led by Dr. Michael F. Murray, with assistance from Kathy Murray (tune transcriptions) and Mark Bilyeu (lyric transcriptions) from the Missouri State University Department of Music. The originals are held by the Springfield-Greene County Library District.

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