FOLKLIFE & TRADITIONAL ARTS
The Stanton Littlejohn Sessions
Around 1946, McNairy County musician, Stanton Littlejohn, picked up a recording console and began making acetate disc (lacquer) recordings of his friends and family at his Eastview, Tennessee home. Recording for more than ten years, the amateur sound engineer captured the performances of dozens of old-time musicians, southern gospel quartets, and traditional country artists, from Southwest Tennessee and North Mississippi. In 2009 Arts in McNairy began the painstaking process of collecting and digitizing as many of Littlejohn's recordings as possible. The project was funded in part by the Tennessee Arts Commission and the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. With the aid of Littlejohn's family and technical assistance provided by Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University, AiM's heritage arts team was able to preserve more than two hundred tracks of Littlejohn's music. All of the material is available for listening at the McNairy County Historical Museum in the AiM Cultural Collection or at the Archives in the McNairy County Courthouse. A compilation CD, The Littlejohn Sessions Vol. 1, was released in 2014. Contact us for purchasing information or download audio samples here.
Rockabilly Highway Revival
McNairy County's rockabilly roots are incredibly rich. Legendary rock 'n' roll deejay, Dewey Phillips, who hailed from Adamsville, Tennessee introduced the world to Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis, among other early rockabilly artists. Three members of the International Rockabilly Hall of Fame are McNairy County natives. Elvis Presley played his first road gig at Bethel Springs, Tennessee, where he just happened to meet a young guitarist named Carl Perkins. Perkins made the first recordings of his storied career with Stanton Littlejohn at Eastview, Tennessee in 1951. In 2008 Arts in McNairy was instrumental in having Highway 45 South from Interstate 40 to the Mississippi state line dubbed, Rockabilly Highway. Two world class public art installations in downtown Selmer, Tennessee pay homage to this incredible musical legacy. The iconic Rockabilly Highway Mural I & Rockabilly Highway Mural II are by Nashville artist Brian Tull, a McNairy County native. An annual music and heritage festival, The Rockabilly Highway Revival, celebrates the region's rockabilly heritage the second week in June in downtown Selmer. The annual McNairy County Music Hall of Fame inductions take place on the eve of the music festival. The Revival is cosponsored by AiM and McNairy County Economic Development and Chamber of Commerce.
Brooms and Broomcorn Heritage
Fourth generation Selmer broom maker, Jack Martin is a national treasure. Martin still operates Hockaday Handmade Brooms, the family business he inherited from his maternal grandfather. Martin was honored with the 2015-16 Tennessee Governor's Folklife Heritage Award, the state's highest honor in the arts. Broom making was a staple of farm life in McNairy County from the mid 19th until the mid 20th century. Dozens of families made brooms to supplement their income in the winter months, but very little of that heritage survives. Jack Martin is the living embodiment of the tradition, making brooms one at a time with his family's homemade broom machines. The annual Broomcorn Festival sponsored by Hockaday Brooms, Arts in McNairy and the McNairy County Chamber of Commerce is a celebration of McNairy County's broom making heritage. It is one of the finest and most authentic cultural festivals in the Southeast. The festival takes place the third weekend in September in Selmer.
Tennessee Music Box
The Tennessee music box (box dulcimer) is a folk instrument that originated in the counties of the lower Tennessee River Valley. The box dulcimers were never commercially produced, rather, construction and playing techniques were passed from generation to generation, and neighbor to neighbor, through oral tradition. Less than 100 of these folk instruments have been discovered and documented. In 2015 Arts in McNairy purchased the Ellis Truett Jr. Collection of Tennessee music boxes. Truett was a lifelong student of music, a dulcimer builder, player, and collector, and an outspoken advocate for West Tennessee music heritage preservation. His collection of 7 box dulcimers, along with other instruments, and music box documentation are now part of the Arts in McNairy Cultural Collection at the McNairy County Historical Museum. It is the largest, and one of the most significant, collections of Tennessee Music Boxes in the world. The instruments are on rotating display at the museum and occasionally featured in other cultural exhibits in the area. The Jackson Area Plectral Society and Needles-n-Pins Quilters of Selmer were generous partners in acquisition of these Tennessee treasures. The instruments are available for scholarly research and inspection by request. Photos of the collection may be viewed here.
The Slug Burger
McNairy County is proud of its culinary heritage and some of the most mouthwatering whole hog barbecue, fried catfish with hushpuppies, and fried pies you will ever taste can be found on the tables of our local homes and restaurants. But the one food experience most associated with McNairy County (especially Selmer) is the slug burger. Several local proprietors still serve this tasty little golden-brown burger that evolved during the depression era when small town diners in North Mississippi, Northwest Alabama, and Southwest Tennessee sought an economical way to serve more customers while stretching their scarce provisions of meat. Potato flour, soy grit, and other fillers were used to get more burgers per pound, thus giving birth to the slug burger. The name is reportedly derived from the cost of the economical lunch treat which originally cost only a nickel, otherwise known in local slang as a slug. This McNairy County food tradition has been prominently featured in an oral history project by the Southern Foodways Alliance. Interviews with local slug burger cooks, and more information on this unique food tradition can be viewed here.