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Lily May Ledford Collection



Scope and Contents

Biographical Note

Administrative Information

Detailed Description

Printed Matter

Original Audio Recordings

Interview Transcripts

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Lily May Ledford Collection, 1936-1985 | Berea College Special Collections and Archives Catalog

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Collection Overview

Title: Lily May Ledford Collection, 1936-1985Add to your cart.

Primary Creator: Ledford, Lily May -- 1917-1985

Extent: 1.0 MS boxes


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.


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.

Scope and Contents of the Materials

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

Biographical Note

Lily May Ledford; b. Mar. 17, 1917, Powell County, Ky., d. July 14, 1985; American clawhammer banjo and fiddle player.

Administrative Information

Repository: Berea College Special Collections and Archives Catalog

Access Restrictions:

Follow links in the box list to listen to recordings and read interview transcripts. Information regarding interviews is found with interview transcripts.

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

Use Restrictions: Federal copyright regulations apply to all other materials. Cite all information.

Acquisition Source: 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).

Preferred Citation: [Object identification], Lily May Ledford Collection, Berea College Special Collections & Archives, Berea, KY.

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.

Finding Aid Revision History: The finding aid was updated in January 2016 to reflect the addition of Series II and III to the collection.

Other Note: BCA 0079 SAA 079

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Series:

[Series 1: Printed Matter],
[Series 2: Original Audio Recordings],
[Series 3: Interview Transcripts],

Series 1: Printed MatterAdd to your cart.
This series includes newspaper and magazine clippings, photocopied autobiographical writings, copies of books and journals, and photographs relating to the life and work of Lily May Ledford and the Coon Creek Girls.
Box 1Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Lily May Ledford CorrespondenceAdd to your cart.
Folder 2: TimelinesAdd to your cart.
Folder 3: Autobiographical Writing (Photo copy of the hand written original and typed transcript); multiple copiesAdd to your cart.
Folder 4: Ledford, Lily May.  Coon Creek Girl.  Berea College Appalachian Center. (Four Copies), 1980Add to your cart.
Folder 5: High, Ellesa Clay.  "The Coon Creek Girl From Red River Gorge: An Interview with Lily May Pennington.", Spring 1977.Add to your cart.
Adena. Vol. 2 No. 1
Folder 6: Ledford, Lily May. "Autobiography"Add to your cart.
Seattle Folklore Society. Vol. 8 No. 3 March 1977 / Vol. 9 No. 2 December 1977 / Vol. 9 No. 3 March 1978.
Folder 7: Writing: The Coon Creek Girl from Red River, Aug 1981, Dissertation E.C. HighAdd to your cart.
Folder 8: Articles and other regarding Everlyn "Daisy" LangeAdd to your cart.
Folder 9: Paper: John Lair and the Construction of the Coon Creek Girls, by Lisa J. Yager, 1994Add to your cart.
Folder 10: Documents, WLS Years, 1930sAdd to your cart.
Folder 11: Clippings and Articles, 1937-1960sAdd to your cart.
Folder 12: Clippings and Articles, 1970sAdd to your cart.
Folder 13: Clippings and Articles, 1980s-1990sAdd to your cart.
Folder 14: Clippings and Articles, Obituaries, 1985Add to your cart.
Box 2Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Coon Creek Girls, Articles and Clippings 1937 - 1939Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Coon Creek Girls/Lily May Ledford RepertoireAdd to your cart.
Folder 3: Coon Creek Girls at the White House, 1939, Articles and ClippingsAdd to your cart.
Folder 4: Photographic SlidesAdd to your cart.
Folder 5: Photographs, originals and copiesAdd to your cart.
Folder 6: List of Photographs Found In the John Lair Personal Papers; List of recorded interviews in the Appalachian Sound Archives.Add to your cart.

Browse by Series:

[Series 1: Printed Matter],
[Series 2: Original Audio Recordings],
[Series 3: Interview Transcripts],

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