Ola Belle Reed: I’ve Endured explores the life and work of nationally recognized bluegrass musician Ola Belle Reed, contextualizing her achievements within a history of migration from rural Appalachia north in the twentieth century. The display will include photographs, concert flyers, instruments, audio, video, and memorabilia drawn from the Maryland Traditions Archive at UMBC. Co-curated by the Library Gallery’s Curator of Exhibitions Emily Cullen and Media and Communications Studies Professor Bill Shewbridge with Tim Newby, author of Baltimore: The Hard Drivin’ Sound & its Legacy (McFarland and Company, Inc. 2015).
With a voice born in the mountains and shaped by the hard times she lived and saw, Ola Belle Reed (1916-2002) established herself as a significant and influential banjo picker, singer, and songwriter of old-time mountain music.
This exhibition presents a variety of media including photographs and ephemera, as well as contemporary and archival recordings that trace the evolution and impact of Reed from the moment she first stepped on stage with the North Carolina Ridge Runners in 1936, through her time with the New River Boys & Girls, and culminating in the 1970s with her career as a groundbreaking solo artist.
Reed was one of an estimated two million migrants who left Appalachia during the Great Depression in search of work in industrial centers such as Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit, and Pittsburgh. They brought with them ways of life, including musical traditions, that maintained a connection to their southern home and transformed the culture of their adopted cities. Among these masses was the Reed-Campbell family who left Ashe County, North Carolina in 1934, settling first in southeastern Pennsylvania, then Maryland.
Reed played a critical role in establishing and maintaining a vital musical community along the Mason-Dixon Line. She co-hosted a radio program and was both proprietor of and performer at local concert venues. With a powerful voice, lyrics that spoke authentically of her rural roots, and her honest, straightforward musical approach, Reed and her passionate songs found a home in the folk-revival movement of the 1960s. Reed left an enduring legacy: her 1973 album Ola Belle Reed was added in 2019 to the National Recording Registry, her songs have become anthems of Appalachian life, and she is widely recognized as one of the most influential female bluegrass and folk musicians of all-time.
Public programming will include a free public screening of Bill Shewbridge’s documentary I’ve Endured: The music and legacy of Ola Belle Reed and a free public concert (date and venue TBA) featuring performances by Ola Belle’s son David Reed and nephew Hugh Campbell, as well as Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, a Grammy Award winning duo based in Silver Spring who had a close relationship with Ola Belle and her family. Cathy and Marcy continue to celebrate her legacy through their music and the annual Ola Belle Reed Songwriting Workshop. The concert will be recorded and made available on UMBC’s Maryland folklife website.