But last week’s cover story revealed another part of our identity that we also hold near and dear. The stories and photos on the release of the 1950s recordings by Joseph Hall of Carroll Best and The White Oak String Band (release party is at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 19, in Stuart Auditorium at Lake Junaluska, and it’s free) provide an entertaining and insightful glimpse into the rich musical heritage of this region.
People from here and those who have relocated to the Smoky Mountain region know that our music is unique and that it is a valued part of the region’s heritage. The mountain area’s independent spirit and isolation preserved and propagated a brand of music unlike any other. People like Carroll Best and French Kirkpatrick are part of that lineage, and their story is fascinating and important.
In all the years I spent as reporter and editor working at various newspapers, by far the most genuine publisher I worked for was Ken Wilson at The Mountaineer. Ken always emphasized that we shouldn’t just write about this region, but that we should guard its legacy and value its history. During one of our conversations he picked up a copy of The Mountaineer and ripped off its masthead, the top portion of the front page that provides the name of the newspaper and its hometown. I’m paraphrasing, but he told me “readers should be able to go through the pages of this newspaper and get a sense of place, of knowing exactly where they are and what this newspaper values.”
That’s the same identity we are trying to forge here at The Smoky Mountain News. We care about our past but also want to help bring about a better future for this region. To accomplish that, we’ll dig up dirt when needed but also tell the stories of this region’s rich history so they can be preserved. Or, as the humorist Finley Peter Dunne once said when speaking of his local newspaper, we’ll “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
Of course we do it differently these days. In addition to the printed edition of the newspaper, we’ve included links on our website to Kirkpatrick playing the banjo and the entire interview by Garret K. Woodward with Kirkpatrick. We also put the liner notes to the new album online, more than 30 pages of interesting and insightful history.