Pass the Word

The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives division of the WKU Special Collections Library recently made its inaugural entry to the Kentucky Oral History Commission’s (KOHC) Pass the Word project; the first of more than 500 collections containing thousands of individual interviews that the library intends to contribute to the project.  The first entry, Donald A. Beisswenger’s folk studies project titled “White Gospel Music in Logan County, Kentucky”, includes five interviews with Jeff and Gwen McKinney and Chester Whitescarver, detailing their memories of “singing schools” in and around Logan County.  The schools usually lasted ten days and were most often sponsored by and held in churches in the rural south, including Kentucky, and culminated in day long gospel singing events, sermons, and dinner-on-the-grounds.  Amateur singing groups often resulted from the schools, and participated in competitions at the community, state and national level; however, the typical result was the personal satisfaction of learning to read music and sing during church services.  People of all ages participated in the singing schools which were usually held in the fall after the harvest and served as both an opportunity for entertainmnet as well as instruction in the basics of reading music and voice.

“Older people such as my parents told me how everybody used to go to singing schools, anxious to go.  It was like that when I was growing up; no entertainment at home.  There was usually a singing school somewhere about every month when I was young.”  Chester Whitescarver

Since 1976, the HOHC has supported the creation of oral history recordings throughout Kentucky.  In an effort to facilitate greater access to Kentucky’s ever expanding oral history colections, the Commission published The Guide to Kentucky Oral History in 1991.  The Guide, which identified 25,000 interviews held at 41 repositories across the Commonwealth, became a searchable online database in 2001.  The latest effort by KOHC to enhance public access to Kentucky’s oral histories has been made possible with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Kentucky Historical Foundation.  “Pass the Word”,, is an interactive, searchable oral history resource containing information about oral history collections and highlights projects which have grown out of these collections, such as books, documentaions, and school programs.

Whether researching a specific topic for an academic project of researching your family genealogy, Pass the Word, with its collection level and item level search ability, will be a valuable resource.  Other recent WKU additions to the data base include the Robert Penn Warren Oral History Collecton and the African American Heritage in Bowling Green and Warren County project;  upcoming entries will include the Kentucky River Project and the Downtown Henderson Project.

To see finding aids for other oral history collections at WKU click here.

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