In the late 1930's, a young Californian named Joseph Hall was invited by the park service to come to the Smokies and record it's people.
"Because he was a linguist, he was interested in documenting the speech of the people of the Great Smoky Mountains," says Dr. Ted Olson of East Tennessee State University's Appalachian Studies Department.
"They were just on the eve of kind of being asked to leave their ancestral homes and farms to make the park. Joseph Hall realized that somebody need to document the speech patterns, the sayings the phrases of the people of the Smokies and took it upon himself to do so. "
At first, Hall focused primarily on recording the speech of people who lived in the mountains. Over time, he became even more interested in it's music.
"Somewhere along the way, he realized that he could get a lot more information about the ways in which people talked and the ways they used words by also asking people to tell stories and sing songs.
Hall made hundreds of recordings of Tennessee and Western North Carolina residents, playing everything from instrumentals to love songs.
"He was never consciously gathering the music to release the music to the public as other folklorists of that era were doing."
For decades, the recordings sat in archives, only a handful of people even knew they existed.
"At some point, the Library of Congress obtained copies of everything that Hall had collected in the Smokies. For a period of time, Hall's recordings were available in Gatlinburg in the Smokies archives as well as Washington, D.C., in the Library of Congress. People could somewhat easily gain access to the material if they wanted to."
Several years ago, a linguist and personal friend of Joseph Hall obtained permission to preserve the recordings for the future.
"Michael Montgomery was kind of the executor of those materials appointed by Joseph Hall and Joseph Hall's family.
I think he felt like now it's time to find a home for these recordings.
Michael Montgomery enlisted the help of Dr. Ted Olson of ETSU, Kent Cave of the National Park Service and Steve Kemp of the Great Smoky Mountains Association to put the recordings on a CD titled Old Time Smoky Mountain Music.
"My role was to listen to endless hours of recordings to select the ones that were, in my opinion, most representative of Smoky Mountain Culture in the 1930's," says Olson. "I think probably the biggest surprise that I realized after listening to the recordings was that the people living in the Smokies in the 30's were thoroughly exposed to the wider world.
They were listening to records and the radio, they knew about Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family and other country music popular hits of the day and some of that repertoire had made their way into the repertoire of the mountain folk."
Although the recordings were in good shape, they did show their age. So, Dr. Olson enlisted the help of John Fleenor of ETSU's Archives of Appalachia.
"They brought me the digital files on it and I began working on it," recalls Fleenor. "Along with dirt you had wear so you had to work with that try to get back to the original recordings without losing the patina of the original."
Ted Olson says the group had almost too much material to work with.
"There were hundreds of recordings and I whittled it down to 34 recordings. We were well aware that we had 75 minutes to play with in terms of the length of a CD so that was the space that we had to fill up. I must say that no track made it on to the set that we deemed inferior in any way.
We only selected strong material and it seemed to magically fit onto a CD so the tracks that people here on the released CD are the tracks that we settled upon three years ago when we started this process. We put them in an order that we felt told a story of the Smoky Mountain Experience .
People are going to hear the limitations of the recording and technology of the era, there's a pop here and a scratch there... they are on the original masters, we didn't want to pretend they're not there."
There is only one known survivor from Hall's recordings. Zeb Hannah grew up in North Carolina and now lives in Washington State.
"He was a teenager when he recorded for Joseph Hall in 1939," says Dr. Olson. "He was required to leave his home and relocated in New Jersey and then joined the military and upon his release, he settled out west in Tacoma, Washington. He has apparently heard the CD and he was thrilled to know that these early recordings that he had participated in were available for everybody today to appreciate. I can say that that's one happy outcome from the project."
Profits from the CD sales will all go to help benefit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park but Olson also hopes it will allow listeners to gain an appreciation of those who once called the Smokies home.
"My hope is that people realize that although in some ways the musician ship is is amateur at times," says Ted Olson. "There's a lot of feeling behind the music, a lot of passion for the music, there's a strong sense that the music speaks for the culture, it speaks of the culture."
The Old Time Smoky Mountain Music CD's can be bought at the Townsend Visitors Center and online at www.thegreatsmokymountains.org/old_time_smoky_music_cd