Charles Faulkner Bryan was born in McMinnville, Tennessee on July 26, 1911. He became one of Tennessee's most important musicians, composers, and collectors of folk music, and he had a career as a music educator most notably at Tennessee Polytechnic Institute and at George Peabody College for Teachers. While at Peabody he and George Pullen Jackson co-authored a textbook for the teaching of music in the schools. In 1946 Bryan studied with Paul Hindemith at Yale on a Guggenheim Fellowship. There he began and completed his famous work The Bell Witch Cantata which had its premier at Carnegie Hall in 1947 under the direction of Robert Shaw. Bryan incorporated black spirituals, white spirtuals, and Appalachian folk tunes masterfully in his work, and he is known especially for The White Spiritual Symphony ( 1942) and the folk opera Singin' Billy (1952) On this he worked with Fugitive poet and Agrarian and Vanderbilt professor Donald Davidson, and much of the correspondence in this collection relates to this cooperative venture between Bryan and Davidson.
In the last years of his life he was Master of Music at Indian Springs School in Alabama. He died suddenly on July 7, 1955 at the age of 43 leaving an important legacy of understanding of American folk lore and culture through his work as a musician and teacher. He was married to Edith Hillis in 1935, and they had two children, Betty Lynn and Charles, Jr. In Warren County Tennessee in the park in front of the courthouse there is an historical marker which honors Bryan's achievements and reads:
"A native of Warren County, Bryan was a pioneer in the study of American folk music. Through his talented efforts this distinctively American form of musical expression gained worldwide fame and appreciation. He worked closely with the people of the Southern mountains and coves in the study of this music, but his work earned a permanent place of honor and distinction in the highest ranks of academic and scholarly achievement. Presented in his memory by a grateful community."
Scope and Contents
This collection is .42 linear feet, one Hollinger box, of materials relating to Charles Faulkner Bryan and it includes photocopies of correspondence between Bryan and Donald Davidson, with whom he collaborated on the musical Singin' Billy.
Also in this collection is sheet music of pieces by Bryan and includes the Songs for Children Series, the Bell Witch Secular Folk Cantata, Tennessee Folk Songs and other music by Bryan. There are two 8 x 10 photographs of Bryan in this small collection.
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