Turn it up: Southern Folklife Collection releases rare music recordings

courtesy Yep Roc Records

There’s a treasure trove of singular music archived at the Southern Folklife Collection at UNC Chapel Hill, and this month you’ll be able to play a few of the tracks in your own living room. To broaden the archive’s outreach beyond southern music buffs, the collection has teamed with Yep Roc Records in Hillsborough to release a few rare tracks to the public. First up: Dolly Parton’s first-ever single, Puppy Love, recorded when she was 13. It debuts on April 22 – national record store day – as a 45-RPM with a B-side of Parton’s Girl Left Alone. Besides the vinyls, the songs will also be available in CD form online.

“Releasing these recordings from the Southern Folklife Collection has been something I’ve always wanted to do,” says Steve Weiss, who curates the collection. “This series is a great way to share music from the archives with fans.”

Weiss is justifiably proud of the music library. “We are one of the foremost collections of American vernacular music in the United States,” he says. The SFC includes art and other cultural artifacts related to the American South as well, but it’s the music library that stands out. “It is an extensive collection comparable to the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center and the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Library and Archives.”

Music lovers have long known this. There, they can listen to any of the library’s 250,000 recordings, from early gospel hymns to original Elvis Presley film soundtracks, wax cylinders to .mp3 files. 

The Dolly Parton record is the first of a few planned releases. A compilation of classic Cajun music called Swampland Jewels will be released in September and a newly discovered performance by Doc Watson, Live at the Club 47, later this year. –J.A.