If you are looking to gain insight into Appalachian culture or seeking to enrich your summer experience, reserve three Wednesdays in July to participate in the John B. Stephenson Lecture Series at Lees-McRae College. Scholar, teacher, humanist and caretaker of Southern Appalachia, John B. Stephenson began his career at Lees-McRae College and rose to be the president of Berea College. He left an enduring legacy of devoted stewardship of the mountains. This series of programs honors his memory and carries forward his devotion to our Southern mountains.
Beginning at 7:00 p.m. in Evans Auditorium of the Cannon Student Center on July 11, 18 and 25, Lees-McRae College will present a diverse set of programs: storyteller Orville Hicks, regional scholar Dr. Pat Beaver and musician, author, and scholar Dr. Ted Olson will share their expertise with the public in presentations that promise to be both entertaining and enlightening.
On July 11, Orville Hicks will practice his art of telling traditional stories. He comes by his profession naturally. By birth and by breeding, he is the heir of his relative Ray Hicks as the king-of-the-mountain of traditional storytellers.
Ray had a hand in raising and mentoring Orville, but the younger Hicks’ tale-telling roots extend much further back. On his mother’s side he is descended from the legendary Council Harmon, 19th century patriarch and repository of Old World lore. Sarah Hicks, Harmon’s granddaughter, raised her 11 children on Jack tales, oatmeal and cornbread.
“I was the baby, the youngest one of seven boys and four girls. Mom always had a big ol’ pot of oatmeal and a pan of biscuits; by the time it got to me it was about empty. I learnt most of my tales from my mother.
“The stories come down from her side of the family, the Harmon side. Her grandfather was Council Harmon—the tale books give a lot of credit to him,” says Orville who wears the mantle of master storyteller as easily as he does his overalls.
Orville Hicks has told his tales at the Smithsonian Institution, colleges, festivals, and at the recycling center. His traditional stories bubble out as naturally as breathing for the area native.
“We are fortunate to have someone like Orville Hicks to bring to us today the tales of yesterday, told in the same way as mountain masters from the past told them,” said Dr. Michael Joslin, director of the Stephenson Center for Appalachia at Lees-McRae College. “Orville always puts on an entertaining and informative show. His voice is an echo from times gone by that we are privileged to hear. We invite everyone to come to share his tales.”
On July 18, Dr. Pat Beaver, professor of Anthropology and director of the Center for Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University, will present her program “Women and Community Memory.” She has spent many years in the area researching various aspects of mountain community and family, as well as conducting research on similar topics in China, and has written and lectured widely on these subjects.
On July 25, Dr. Ted Olson, professor of Appalachian Studies and an American Folk Music Instructor at East Tennessee State University, will present a program on early recordings of traditional mountain music. This past year he was nominated for Grammy Awards in the categories of Best Historical Album and Best Liner Notes for his work on The Bristol Sessions, 1927-1928: The Big Bang of Country Music, a five-CD box set accompanied by a 120-page hardcover book. He has also written and edited several books on Appalachian music and literature.
“Lees-McRae College welcomes everyone to share these Wednesday evenings with us. We encourage you to experience these sages of Appalachian culture,” said Joslin.
The Stephenson Lecture Series is free and open to the public. Each program begins at 7:00 p.m. in Evans Auditorium in the Cannon Student Center as Lees-McRae. For information contact Meghan Wright at (828) 898-8729.