The African American Folklorist

Whether it's art, literature, bluegrass or blues, Black Kentuckians have had a hand in shaping it. The African American Folklorist explores that history by providing a more personal look at culture. Building upon the existing newspaper and podcast series, The African American Folklorist presents a chance to share lesser known stories of influential figures.

"The thing with folklore, outside of history or entertainment, is we have an opportunity to honor, celebrate, and platform the auntie that lives next door that only three people know about this lady. But those three people, since they were born, she provided some cultural service," - African American Folklorist Host Lamont Pearley

Julie Bowles

When driving south on Chestnut St. in Bowling Green, toward the traffic circle on Western Kentucky University's campus, a beautiful grey home sitting behind a lovely tree stands out.

That structure is the African American Museum.

For some, it may be unassuming, but once you're inside, you're taken on a tour of generations of Black Bowling Green that includes military uniforms worn by African American soldiers, the first Black homecoming queen at Western Kentucky University in 1972, and memorabilia from neighborhoods like Jonesville, Shake Rag, and Delafield.



Bill Sheckles

A new museum in Bardstown is intended to help fill in some gaps in the town’s history. The Bardstown-Nelson County African American Heritage Museum opened June 10.

In his work as a truancy officer for Bardstown City Schools, Bill Sheckles realized that many young people don’t know about the contributions African Americans have made to the city in all walks of life. 

Sheckles is a city councilman and former Bardstown Mayor who coordinated the development of the Bardstown-Nelson County African American Heritage Museum. 

The museum is located in an historic building constructed circa 1812 that’s currently the First Baptist Church.

Lamont Jack Pearley

Maxine Ray is a folklorist who grew up in the historic African American community of Jonesville, which Western Kentucky University replaced during the urban renewal process of the mid-1950s through late 1960s.

Walking through E.A. Diddle Arena and some of the parking lots that supplanted what was once a thriving Black community of professional masons and homeowners, it's possible to feel the urgency transmitted from Mrs. Ray as she spoke about her work and it's inspiration.

Mrs. Ray attended Western Kentucky University to pursue a degree in Sociology many years after her family and neighbors lost their homes. She would soon find out she had a calling to become a folklorist, as she earned her Master’s Degree from the WKU Folk Studies Program.

Lamont Jack Pearley

As a folklorist, I’m constantly searching for notable African American stories in and around Kentucky.

In my more recent research, I decided to look specifically in the Bowling Green area.

To my surprise, I found the name of an American composer and pianist that many people in the Bowling Green area are unfamiliar with: Porter Parrish Grainger. 

Editors note: A previously aired version of this story notes Grainger's last notable work as coming out in 1939. He published his last song in 1943.

Darrow Montgomery

Arnold Shultz is an African American fiddler and guitarist who was instrumental in the development of Bluegrass, along with other country-style music genres.

Born into a musical family, the unrecorded Kentucky legend made an impact on music up and down the Mississippi River, and introduced guitar chords, styles of play, and performances to the likes of Bill Monroe, known as the "Father of Bluegrass", and many others.

The son of a former slave, his family played hillbilly music and were professional touring musicians.

Shultz also broke racial barriers. He played with white musicians, black musicians, and in white establishments, black establishments, and elite homes.

The terms "soul food" and "Southern style food" were not an initial naming convention for the meals eaten in the households I grew up in. We ate what Grandma cooked. What Granddad bought, for Auntie and Momma to prepare.

As time went on, the meals of my family began popping up in stores around our community, then particular spaces across the nation by the name “Soul Food” or “Country Kitchen.”

I remember Country Kitchen specifically, because it was on the route home from church, and on special occasions my family and I would stop there to order meals. The food was good, not as good as my grandma, or mother’s, but nonetheless we enjoyed.

Louisville Folk School Facebook Page

How did an instrument that made its way from Africa, to the Caribbean, then the shores of the American south become a staple of bluegrass music? And how, by the 20th century, did the use of this instrument include a very small amount of African Americans?

Who is Henry Hart, and why is he significant to music? Why is he even significant to Kentucky?

These questions and more are answered in a three series program presented by the Louisville Folk School in partnership with Kentucky Performing Arts, and hosted by Louisvilles’ own writer and historian Michael L. Jones.

Appalachia is known and celebrated for many things. However, one piece of its history seems less known.

That’s where the organization Black In Appalachia comes in. Black In Appalachia works to highlight, document, present and engage the history and contributions of African-Americans in the advancement of the Mountain South and its culture.

Through digital media, community engagement, and a group of dedicated people, Black in Appalachia serves their community through research, local narratives, public engagements and exhibitions. They also produce podcasts and mini documentaries that could be found on their website and YouTube channel.

Lamont Collins Owner and Operator of Roots 101 African American Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.

Located at 124th N. 1st St. in Louisville, Kentucky, Roots 101 African American Museum is an incubator for African American history.

Its mission statement is, “To promote understanding and inspire appreciation of the achievement, contribution, and experiences of African Americans using exhibits, programs, and activities to illustrate African-American history, culture and art,” and that’s what they do.

The brainchild of Lamont Collins, who saw the need and urgency to exhibit the story of Black history, Roots 101 has taken Louisville and the museum world by storm.

Lamont Jack Pearley

Kentucky Bluesman Michael Gough has embarked on and completed an EP titled The EP, and is now ready to share the project and story behind it.

As a founding member of the Kentucky Blues Society and the Russellville Blues Society, Gough has been an essential part of the Kentucky music and Blues scene for many years.

The south-central Kentucky legend met with the African American Folklorist in Franklin, Kentucky, at Thunder Sound Studios to speak about his musical journey, inspirations, and the process of orchestrating The EP.

Whether it's art, literature, bluegrass, blues, or any other cultural form, Black Kentuckians have had a hand in shaping it.

Now, a new series airing Saturdays at 9:35 a.m. ET/8:35 a.m. CT during Weekend Edition on WKU Public Radio is exploring that history.

Show host and WKU student Lamont Pearley said The African American Folklorist will be an opportunity to provide a look at the more personal side of culture.

"The thing with folklore, outside of history or entertainment, is we have an opportunity to honor, celebrate, and platform the auntie that lives next door that only three people know about this lady. But those three people, since they were born, she provided some cultural service," Pearley said.

Hear more from Pearley below: