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Almost century-old songs recorded in Knoxville now streaming online

More than 100 rare and historic songs are streaming online. They include old-time Appalachian tunes, blues, and some jazz songs.
Credit: The Knoxville Sessions

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Between 1929 and 1930, the St. James Hotel in downtown Knoxville was a place where musicians of all kinds made their marks. It was a time when labels were looking for all kinds of new artists — trying to find a way to satisfy new musical tastes and make money while radio listening exploded to in popularity.

So, a New York record label teamed up with a Knoxville-based furniture company to build a recording studio inside of the St. James Hotel, according to reports. The studio hosted swing bands, string bands, and old-time bands and even help jazz musicians find their audiences.

The songs recorded in the hotel are now available online, streaming through "SmokyMountainRadio." One of the organizers of the stream said more than 100 rare tracks are available through the stream.

Some of the songs include "Asleep At The Switch" by Lester McFarland and Robert A. Gardner and "I'm On My Way" by the Kentucky Holiness Singers.

Most of the performers at the studio near Market Square were professionals — or aspiring professionals. Some appeared in theaters, while others busked on Knoxville's streets.

By the time the records recorded in the St. James Hotel were released, the Great Depression had hit and the entire industry was struggling to survive. The studio closed up shop and artists from across Appalachia had to find a new way to connect with audiences.

But for less than a year, artists had the chance to cement their songs in history and develop the unique sounds that East Tennessee and Appalachia are now known for.


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