Special Collections Exhibits: Music and Romance
February 8, 2019

From harp singing to country music, Tennessee’s rich musical history is on display in the John C. Hodges Library.

Variations: The Sounds of Special Collections, the current exhibit in the Elaine Altman Evans Exhibit Area on the first floor, documents the history, creation, and enjoyment of music in the Volunteer State by showcasing objects found in UT’s Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives.

Some of the older treasures on display are hymnals from the early nineteenth century, including an 1840 Cherokee Hymn Book as well as Hymns and Spiritual Songs, published in Nashville in 1825, the earliest known hymnal published in Tennessee.

Also on display is an 1849 edition of The Harp of Columbia, a shape note hymnal printed in Knoxville. Shape note singing developed in New England in the early eighteenth century as a way to teach church members to sight-read music. Shape note hymnals and singing schools were introduced to Tennesseans in the early nineteenth century, and harp singing remains popular in East Tennessee to this day.

Harp Singers: sketch by Marion Greenwood
Harp Singers: sketch by Marion Greenwood

An 1876 photograph of the Fisk Jubilee Singers is presented along with contemporaneous sheet music for traditional spirituals. The student a cappella group likely performed these songs on the nationwide tour they undertook in 1871 to raise funds for Fisk University in Nashville. The Jubilee Singers’ popularity helped to introduce spirituals to the world and to preserve this unique American musical tradition.

Fisk Jubilee Singers
Fisk Jubilee Singers

Mementoes from the career of Grace Moore are also showcased. Moore, the “Tennessee Nightingale” from Cocke County, was an opera singer and actress. In the 1930s, her films helped to popularize opera by introducing it to a larger audience.

East Tennessee can also claim an impressive classical heritage. Composer, conductor, educator, and flutist David Van Vactor came to the University of Tennessee in 1947 to serve as head of the newly created Department of Fine Arts, and to take up the baton as the third conductor of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. He conducted the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra until 1972, taught at UT until his retirement in 1976, and continued to compose until his death in 1994. The scores for several of Van Vactor’s compositions are displayed.

Those scores are part of the David Van Vactor Music Collection housed in UT’s Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives. The collection includes the composer’s personal collection of music scores (including autograph scores of works composed or arranged by Van Vactor), concert programs and audio recordings, correspondence, and other materials. The UT Libraries recently digitized selected scores of his compositions to create an online version of the David Van Vactor Music Collection.

One of Van Vactor’s UT students who also became a professor and successful composer is represented in the exhibit as well. Gilbert (Gil) Trythall is best known for his experimental compositions using electronics and synthesizers. Photos of Trythall, the score for one of his compositions, and the cover art for his Country Moog are on display.

The exhibit also contains musically-themed artworks from our Special Collections such as Marion Greenwood’s sketches of harp singers (Greenwood was an artist in residence at UT in the 1950s) and posters for local bands created by Yee-Haw Industries. From 1996 to 2012, Yee Haw delighted Knoxville with graphic designs combining woodblock images and handset type.

From Love Letters to Marital Guides

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a display in the Special Collections reading room celebrates love and romance. All You Need is Love: Romantic Selections from the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives includes display cases featuring “Love Letters and Valentines,” “Love Poems,” “Classic Love Stories,” “Tales of Romance in the South” and “Marital Guides and Weddings.”

“Love Letters and Valentines” includes commercially printed Valentine’s cards and handwritten love letters drawn from our manuscript collections, as well as Valentine’s-themed cartoons from the Charlie Daniel Editorial Cartoon Collection.

Romeo and Juliet, from the Boydell Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet, from the Boydell Shakespeare

Selections from our Rare Books collection represent celebrated love poems — including the verse of Robert Barrett Browning and Edgar Allan Poe — and the classic love story. A 1917 edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s The romance of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, illustrated by Edmund Dulac, and a 1910 retelling of The Sleeping Beauty and other Fairy Tales from the Old French, illustrated by Arthur Rackham, exemplify a golden age in children’s book illustration. Also on display is an engraving of Romeo and Juliet from an 1874 reproduction of the famous Boydell Shakespeare. British publisher and engraver John Boydell initiated his three-part project in 1786, conceiving of an illustrated edition of Shakespeare’s plays, a folio of prints, and a London gallery of paintings by notable artists of the day. By 1805, the project had bankrupted Boydell’s firm.

“Tales of Romance in the South” highlights modern novels by familiar authors such as Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty, and Suddenly Last Summer by Tennessee Williams.

Wedding souvenirs from the Libraries’ manuscript collections as well as printed guides to domestic happiness adorn the exhibit case titled “Marital Guides and Weddings.” This admonition from an 1819 work titled The Moral Instructor, and Guide to Virtue and Happiness may not be romantic, but its inherent wisdom has not aged:

“Married people who must see each other every day, and therefore have opportunities enough to get acquainted with each others faults and humours, and suffer many inconveniences even from the most trifling of them, cannot be too circumspect in their conduct; and it is highly important for them to find out means of preventing their society from being troublesome and tedious to one another, and to guard against mutual indifference, coldness and aversion.”

Visit the Special Collections reading room, 121 Hodges Library, before Valentine’s Day to enjoy romantic selections from our archives.