University Libraries Officially Open the Digital Ozark Folksong Collection

Mary C. Parler (left) tape recording musicians in Oriole barbershop, Bentonville, Arkansas, ca. 1950s. From the Mary C. Parler Photographs Collection (MC896) at the University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections.
Photo by Robert M. Mottar, New York

Mary C. Parler (left) tape recording musicians in Oriole barbershop, Bentonville, Arkansas, ca. 1950s. From the Mary C. Parler Photographs Collection (MC896) at the University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – University Libraries and the Special Collections Department will officially open the digital Ozark Folksong Collection this Friday, Aug. 28, in Mullins Library. The daylong celebration begins at 9 a.m. in the Walton Reading Room.  A full schedule can be found online

The Ozark Folksong Collection, collected between 1949 and 1965, is the largest and most complete collection of traditional music and associated materials from Arkansas and the Ozarks in the nation. Now available online, the collection contains recordings of songs, tales, instrumentals, and conversations from over 700 performers.

The recordings illustrate a rich diversity of cultures, economic classes, occupations along with topics including politics, regional conflicts, emotional bonds, and religious beliefs of the era. The opening celebration honors the legacy of Mary Celestia Parler, the primary collector of this collection.

A highlight of the day’s festivities will be a panel discussion with people whose lives intersect with the collection in a variety of ways. Robert C. Cochran, professor of English and director of the Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies at the University of Arkansas, will moderate a conversation with Buford and Lynda Suffridge, former students of Mary Celestia Parler; Martha Estes, whose mother performed for Parler and is recorded in the collection; and Lora Lennertz, project lead on the preservation of Parler’s original recordings and the creation of the digital collection.

Two nationally recognized folklore scholars will give lectures: Brooks Blevins, the Noel Boyd Professor of Ozarks Studies at Missouri State University in Springfield, where he founded and oversees the country's only Ozarks Studies Program; and Alan Spurgeon, professor of music at the University of Mississippi, whose research often focuses on southern regional folk music. Remarks throughout the day will be made by Carolyn Henderson Allen, dean of Libraries; Angela Fritz, interim head of Special Collections; Lora Lennertz, director for academic and research services at University Libraries; and Joshua Youngblood, outreach and research services librarian. 

Two local bands, East of Zion and Old Ties, will close out the day with performances that showcase songs from the collection and original music inspired by the rich tradition of the oldtime and folk music. 

The U of A Folklore Research Project

The items in this digital collection are a part of the University Folklore Collection, originally the University Folklore Research Project. Begun by Parler in 1949 and completed around 1965, the project was a joint activity of the English Department, the Speech Department (now the Communications Department), and the University Libraries.

Parler was a faculty member in the English Department from 1948 to 1975 and was asked to head up the Folklore Research Project in 1949. She and her students spent the next 16 years trekking across the Ozarks collecting ballads, songs, proverbs, riddles, folk beliefs, and games while drafting more than 800 class reports on topics like folk medicine, agricultural practices, superstitions, and recipes.

Parler’s folksong collection is a key component of the project: there are more than 4,500 audio files in the Ozark Folksong Collection and nearly 4,000 of them have fully searchable transcriptions. Many of the transcripts were typed and annotated by Parler and her students.

One of the original reel-to-reel tapes from the collection, hand-labeled by Mary Celestia Parler. Photo by Russell Cothren, University Relations.

Researchers can find items in the collection through a large number of access points, including keyword searches, alternative song titles, place of recording, performer’s name, collector’s name, and more. The songs are identified with important texts and linked to other important collections, connecting Parler’s work with her contemporaries.

Over the last 10 years, many people have helped create the digital collection. Ethel Simpson, Rachel Reynolds, Ruth Senior, Andrea Cantrell, Aishwarya Ganapathiraju, Colleen Poplawski, Kara Willis and Nathaniel Lucy identified metadata and created additional transcriptions. The digitization and access team included Lora Lennertz, Deb Kulczak, Timothy G. Nutt, Janet Parsch, Joshua Trimble, Trent Leslie and Cedar Middleton. Additional assistance was given by Joshua Youngblood and Angela Fritz.

The University of Arkansas Libraries is grateful to the Happy Hollow Foundation, which provided generous contributions toward the preservation and digital transfer of the reel-to-reel tapes. The digitized transcripts were made possible with funding from the Arkansas Humanities Council. A grant from the University of Arkansas Artists & Concerts Committee helped support stipends for live performances.

For more information about the opening of the collection this Friday, please visit the online event page, or call 479-575-6702. For more information about Special Collections, or items in the University Folklore Collection which are not digitized, please email or call 479-575-8444.

About University of Arkansas Libraries: Located at the heart of campus, David W. Mullins Library is the University’s main research library. Branch libraries include the Robert A. and Vivian Young Law Library, the Fine Arts Library, the Physics Library, and the Chemistry and Biochemistry Library. The Libraries provide access to more than 2 million volumes and 53,000 journals, and offer individual and group research help, study spaces, computer labs with printing and scanning, interlibrary loan and RazorRush services, and cultural exhibits and events. The Libraries’ Special Collections Department acquires, preserves, and provides access to materials on Arkansas and the region, its customs and people, and its cultural, physical, and political climate. Visit the Libraries’ web page at to learn more about services and collections.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.


Lora Lennertz, director of academic and research services
University Libraries

Kalli Vimr, public relations coordinator
University Libraries


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