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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Barbara Greenlief, April 27, 1996. Interview R-0020. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Mother's changing music career later in life

Greenlief describes how her mother grew to become somewhat more independent in her career choices during the late 1960s and 1970s, following her divorce from her second husband. By that time, Greenlief had severed her professional relationship with John Lair. Greenlief argues here that the professional work her mother did with musicians like Mike Seeger and with academic Loyal Jones were particularly influential. One transformation Greenlief gives special attention to is her mother's growing awareness of the historical relevance of the music she made.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Barbara Greenlief, April 27, 1996. Interview R-0020. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Was there anybody in her later years—you say she kind of gravitated towards men that were manipulative and controlling. Did that happen in her later career too, that she ended up being attached to somebody who was helping her out that that was sort of the operative sort of dynamic? Or was that different?
BARBARA GREENLIEF:
I think when she got away from, you know, when my parents divorced, she moved to Lexington. She had the means—she had a house and she had so much money a month from my father. So I think that gave her some independence that she had never had before. She didn't know she could have. So, the people that she, now, she did, there were several characters who would come there and spend all day talking to her and, you know, taking notes that were just trying to produce some little—I'm not going to mention names, but who would produce little books about her that she was very embarrassed by.
LISA YARGER:
I know who you're talking about. [Laughter]
BARBARA GREENLIEF:
Okay. She would still give them her time, you know, be very gracious. But she began to make what I consider smarter choices about people she hooked up with, like Mike Seeger and like Loyal Jones. And I think, I'm so glad she met Loyal Jones. Because I think, that was, she finally found a man, you know, that she had some kind of professional relationship with, who she felt was genuine. And she just, every time I went over to talk with her, she mentioned Loyal Jones and what a wonderful person he was. And she just couldn't realize that there could be a man like that. So I'm really glad that he was able to work with her on some projects. Because it gave her the model she'd never had. And she just so highly respected him. [Phone ringing] [Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
LISA YARGER:
You were talking about her relationship with Loyal Jones and how that was a positive one for her. In general, what did she get out of those later years? It sounds like those were really rewarding years for her.
BARBARA GREENLIEF:
I think they were her best years, aside from the experience of WLS, which I don't think could have been topped in her life. She got a lot of, I guess, affirmation from people who were important, you know, and who were important in a sense that she discovered later was happening: that sense of oral history about traditional music. That was not something that she knew about in her early life. You know, that kind of scholarly approach to preserving what went on in the mountains of Appalachia. That was not something she was even aware of, I don't think. Now, she started reading, once she moved to Lexington she started reading Wendell Barry's books, and James Steele's books, and people who were writing about the Appalachian area of Kentucky. She had never done that before.