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Lily May Ledford Collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: BCA 0079 SAA 079

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of autobiographical writing, press clippings, articles, and photographs documenting the career of early country music performer, Lily May Ledford.

Listen to Recordings and / or read Transcripts

Included in the collection are records documenting her time as a member of the Coon Creek Girls, recordings of her performing at Berea College and other venues, and a series of recorded interviews with associates and family members.


  • created: 1936-1985


Conditions Governing Access

To listen to recordings and read interview transcripts, follow links in the box list.

The collection can be accessed directly through the Reading Room, Berea College Special Collections and Archives, Hutchins Library, Berea College.

Conditions Governing Use

Federal copyright regulations apply to all other materials. Cite all information.


1.00 ms_boxes

Language of Materials



Lily May Ledford (1917-1985) grew up in eastern Kentucky's rural Powell County, one of fourteen children.  She learned ballads and hymns from her mother and fiddle tunes and popular songs from her father.  She learned to play the fiddle and banjo quite early and in her teens was performing for community dances and entertaining tourists visiting the scenic Red River Gorge area near her home. In the late 1930s she came to the attention of Kentucky radio entrepreneur, John Lair, who was working as a producer and MC for country music programs on Chicago radio station WLS.  She was well received by WLS audiences and eventually came to work for Lair when he started his own radio show, the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, in Cincinnati and later at Renfro Valley in Rockcastle County Kentucky. Lily May and sisters Rosie and Minnie were the key members of the Coon Creek Girls, probably the first all-female string band. They were among the most popular performers on John Lair's radio programs on Cincinnati's WLW and Louisville's WHAS beginning in 1937 and extending into the early 1950s. After several years of relative retirement Lily May resumed performing in the 1960s playing at various folk festivals including those in Newport, RI, Washington, DC, and Montreal, Canada. She was Berea College's Artist-in-Residence 1979-1980.  In 1985 she was named a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship Award in recognition of her legacy of traditional tunes and banjo picking techniques.  Traditional songs identified particularly with her include Banjo Pickin' Girl, How Many Biscuits Can You Eat? and John Henry.

Arrangement Note

The collection is arranged in series as follows:

Series 1: Printed Matter

Series 2: Original Audio Recordings

Series 3: Interview Transcripts

This is a reference collection comprised of material from Berea College's Appalachian Center, Hutchins Library, interviews recorded by Lisa Yarger and others, and manuscript and photographic items from Ledford's granddaughter, Cari Norris. Follow links in the recordings box list to hear recordings and read interview transcripts.

Source of Acquisition

Cari Norris, Lily May Ledford's granddaughter

Related Materials

Related Materials Available at Hutchins Library


Coon Creek Girls: Lily May, Rosie, & Susie [1967-68 recordings] (County 712)

Banjo Pickin' Girl (Rounder 1029)

The Coon Creek Girls-Early Radio Favorites (1930s) (Old Homestead OHCS 142)

Lily May Ledford: Banjo Pickin' Girl (Greenhays GR 712)


Headwaters: Lily May Ledford.


High, Ellesa Clay. Past Titan Rock: Journeys Into An Appalachian Valley.

Yarger, Lisa J. Representing Lily May Ledford. M.A. Thesis, UNC Chapel Hill, 1997.

Wolfe, Charles. Kentucky Country: Folk and Country Music of Kentucky. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky (1982).

Other Descriptive Information

BCA 0079 SAA 079

Processing Information

This collection is comprised of material formerly found in Berea College's Appalachian Center, Hutchins Library's Appalachian Vertical Files, manuscript and photographic items from Ledford's granddaughter, Cari Norris, and Masters thesis research material from Lisa Yarger.

The collection was processed by Harry Rice, Sound Archivist.

Archon Finding Aid Title
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Berea College Special Collections and Archives Repository

Hutchins Library
100 Campus Drive
Berea Kentucky 40404 US