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Feb 21, 2021 - 5:43:01 AM
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443 posts since 7/31/2018

In honor of Black History Month, this week's tune is Rolling River, from the playing of John Martin Lusk (12 October 1889--March 1969) of Warren Co., TN. He was the son of John Lewis Lusk and Mary Lusk. John Lewis was born c. 1850 and was still alive in 1930 (listed in the 1930 Census), and Mary was born c. 1862 and passed away sometime between 1920 and 1930 (Mary is listed in the 1920 Census, and John Lewis Lusk is listed a a widower in the 1930 Census). John Martin Lusk married Missie Bartley (1890-1914) on 16 December 1911. His second wife was Lena York (1905-1972), and they were married 28 December 1923.

John Martin Lusk has no gravestone, there is only a marker where he is buried. His year of birth is incorrectly stated as 1886. Documents from his lifetime confirm that he was born in 1889.

Linda L. Henry traced John Lusk, Murphy "Murph" Gribble, and Albert York back to white slaveowners, William Lusk, Thomas Gribble, and Uriah York, who lived on neighboring farms in Warren County, TN. Jeff Lusk was born into slavery c.1820 on the farm of William Lusk and was sent to New Orleans to learn fiddle. Joe “Lewis” Lusk and Mary Mollie Lusk were two of Jeff’s seven known children. “Lewis” was the father of next generation musicians John Lusk and Albert York. Mary Mollie Lusk was the mother of their musical partner, Murphy Gribble. John (fiddle), Murphy (banjo), and York (guitar) formed the group now known as Gribble, Lusk, and York. They busked every Saturday for nearly thirty years on the same street corner in downtown McMinnville.

I did find on Ancestry that Murphy Gribble (2 November 1892--30 August 1950) married Lenora (Lena) Belle Lusk (1876-1942). Murphy was the son of Illie (years unknown) and Mollie Gribble (1866-1920). Murphy's step daughter was Manilla Mae Lusk. According to Census reports, the families lived close to each other.

Field recordings were made of them in 1946 and 1949 by Stu Jamieson and Margot Mayo, and Ralph Rinzler recorded Lusk in 1964, accompanied by Lusk's son on guitar. Distinction iwas made between the different types of music they played. The first was their public music which they played on the street corner to entertain white audiences. The group kept separate “that old stuff,” “the way the old folks played,” and the tunes known as “sukey jumps.” These tunes were played for “black occasions such as kitchen dances, weddings, etc..” This kind of music was hidden from “white” ears. The first recordings made of the group were of the public music they played. Later, some of "that old stuff" was recorded, some of which Lusk attributed to Will Gribble, Murphy's father. In 1989, seven of their tunes were released commercially by Rounder Records on an LP titled "Altamont, Black Stringband Music from the Library of Congress." An account of the recording sessions appeared in The Old-Time Herald, Summer 1990, pp. 27-31.

The information above comes from Linda L. Henry's detailed essay "'Some Real American Music' John Lusk and His Rural Black String Band." In it she looks at how three generations of African American musicians and their music survived slavery, the failure of Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow South. She discusses the distinct qualities of their music and things to be learned from their music and their stories. This essay, along with another titled "The Saturday Fish Fry and Square Dance in Dogtown" and many recordings can be found at

I've discovered that Rolling River is very similar to a tune found in Marion Thede's The Fiddle Book called Molly Baker (or, Molly Baker is similar to Rolling River). We featured Molly Baker for Old-Time TOTW #98 (5/10/20):

Joining me is friend Stephen Rapp on banjo (Kent, OH)

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Feb 21, 2021 - 6:10:01 AM
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12509 posts since 9/23/2009
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Nice tune, Paul! Thanks!

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