“The Charlottesville Bicentennial Ballad”

Fun fact: Art Garfunkel backed the recording of a song commemorating Charlottesville in 1976. But how did that come to be?

First you have to know that Art Garfunkel lived in Cobham back in the 70s. Paul Simon’s musical partner had been hounded out of his prior home by the media, and had moved to Albemarle for some privacy. The estate of Beau Val was his new home—now Keswick Vineyards—and it worked out, in that the media left him alone.

The second thing to know is that 1976—the bicentennial—was a Big Deal in Charlottesville. That’s when the Rotunda was restored to Jefferson’s design from Stanford White’s redesign, Queen Elizabeth visited (for whom half of the municipal band accidentally played the national anthem, rather than “God Save the Queen”), and President Gerald Ford was the speaker at Monticello’s citizenship ceremony on Independence Day. History was in the air.

Album Cover

Local sign painter and banjo player Arthur Stubbs had written a song about Charlottesville that he wanted to record. Garfunkel—through what connection, I have no idea—served as the silent backer for the production, which was done at Carl Handy’s Monticello Records. The resulting record was “The Charlottesville Bicentennial Ballad,” the cover of which portrayed a soldier in a tri-corner hat, playing the banjo, standing in front of Monticello. Handy’s nephew, David, related this story on an Art Garfunkel fan website last year, where he explained that he’s been unable to find any evidence that anybody else has a copy of this record (though surely somebody must), and provided an accompanying letter from Garfunkel to Stubbs expressing his enthusiasm for the resulting recording.

Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that Garfunkel’s enthusiasm was matched by sales—years of pawing through the bins at Spencer’s, Plan 9, and Distraxshuns never turned up this little gem. So I don’t have an MP3 to present here, although I am hoping that a reader will be familiar with this—perhaps somebody old enough to have done the same pawing at Back Alley Disc or Band Box.

47 thoughts on ““The Charlottesville Bicentennial Ballad””

  1. THERE’S a coincidence. Last Friday I was reminiscing about Stubbs with a friend who also knew him. In the late 50s I emceed the weekly WCHV broadcast of “Art Stubbs and the Ramblin’ Serenaders.”

    I’ll call the musicians and see if I can’t get a copy of the Ballad.

  2. President Obama, or whomever is in charge here,

    Is there no way to edit a comment after it’s been submitted? We of the Treppenwitz school always reserve our best thoughts for after the opportunity to express them.

    Cordially,
    L’esprit de l’escalier

  3. I actually had a copy of the record. It had a version of “Jesse James” on the other side. Don’t remember what happned to it-maybe it will turn up in some box stored away in the closet or attic.
    Its a collectible for local history fans thats for sure. Its no musical gem -one verse goes ” Charlottesville where people gaze in wonder at the beautiful Rotunda.”

  4. HollowBoy: In the local dialect, “wunduh” rhymes with “Rotunduh.” :0]

    reybo — We still need funding to transfer the videotape of your Jefferson Cable interview with Frank Capra.

    Waldo: Mike Gleason, former head of Charlottesville’s Bicentennial Commission, may have a copy.

  5. I knew y’all would be familiar with this. :) HollowBoy, I had a hunch it might not be a particularly brilliant bit of songwriting, but I’m enough of a history geek that I’m OK with that. It helps that I’m also a huge local music geek (I have, seriously, hundreds of local albums, singles, etc.), so this kind of thing is right in the sweet spot.

    Is there no way to edit a comment after it’s been submitted?

    There is, unfortunately, not. That’s one of many badly needed infrastructure improvements around here. (Wait, infrastructure? Maybe there’s some stimulus money to be had… ;) My apologies!

  6. Waldo: Just spoke to Lin “Mr. Banjo” Jennings. He says “Lefty” Showalter, another old, retired sign painter and the guy with the tombstone sign near Park St and North Ave, has a copy. Lin also said that everything “Stubby” played sounded the same.” Lefty’s in the phone book: Weldon Showalter. Feel free to mention Lin.

  7. “Cet escalier va où, puis-je demander?”
    En haut et en bas mais quelquefois en bas et en haut.
    ===============================================

    Reybo says Hi to Lefty, an old colleague.
    ===============================================

    Steve, how much is required?
    ===============================================

    Regarding Stubby, everyone loved Art and loved to play with him, but he was that unusual person – a tone deaf musician. It all sounded the same but Art never knew.

  8. I don’t know the cost, Rey, mostly, it’s a matter of convincing Larry Ritchie to fix at least one of the four IVC VTR’s that have been on his workbench since 1995 (I gave up in 2000). I’ll be glad to hold the tracking and tension knobs, and nurse the the thing across to one of my digital recorders, for nothing. If you have any pull with that crazy old engineer, give him a call (call me, if you need his #). As for an outside transfer: those guys were charging $100/hour back in the mid ’90’s. I thought they did a lousy job on the Bernard Chamberlain tapes, held by the hysterical society. Of course, most of these tapes were recorded in the early ’70’s, rewound at a zillion RPM, and stored around all manner of magnetic fields. Perhaps one of us should approach the Historical Society for a grant to save the rest of the tapes in UVa’s special collections.

  9. I believe there was a local contest to pick the bicentennial song. Maybe they were submitted to the DP.

  10. Forgot to mention that Lefty was the publisher of “The Jefferson Journal.” During my multifaceted career as a rural letter carrier, I dreaded the weekly pile of 600 copies of the “Journal,” that I had to deliver, along with the 2000 other pieces of mail. As I recall, they were metro size and only folded in the center. Talk about a long day!

  11. A short, sweet life of the Jefferson Journal (that got out of hand.)

    Three guys who left Gene Worrell’s DP in 1971 founded a weekly with hopes of making it a daily. Lefty Showalter from the back shop, the late Wes Payne from the ad department, and tip-of-my-tongue also from the back shop. As I recall they published for more than a year before disbanding for something more lucrative.

    One of Wes’s later ventures was getting a realty license and becoming an agent in the realty office of Rey Barry Associates. His biggest sale was a Farmington house bought by the late Walt Lindsay, grandson of James Lindsay, founder of the Daily Progress.

    More than a little irony there. After a union was voted in at the Prog around 1969, the Lindsay family brought Walt up from North Carolina to manage the back shop, and cull out the staffers who had voted to unionize.

    He did his job and a year later the ones who still had jobs booted the union out.

    But Walt had bigger plans, and as a major stockholder he forced the family to sell the paper so he, personally, could cash in.

    One of Virginia’s great newspaper owners, Frank Batten of Norfolk, put in the high bid and his Landmark Communications was poised to sign the deal – they were in town for this on a Saturday morning – when Walt shopped the bid and found a better sale to T. Eugene Worrell of Bristol, VA/TN.

    99% of those involved with the paper felt that the last minute switch of buyers moved the Prog’s future from the vineyard to the barnyard, and the future proved them right.

    Worrell did move to town from humble beginnings in Bristol, and did became a major positive force in the area through sensitive development, and did become a magnificent local benefactor, and did provide us with terrific progeny.

    But the daily paper was another story. Aside from a few exciting years in the late 70s, his paper was consistently 3rd rate because he ran newsrooms on the cheap, he knew nothing whatever about journalism, and probably thought a Pulitzer involved chickens.

    In Worrell’s first 14 months, 100% of the newsroom was fired or quit. In his second 14 months that happened again. And again in his third 14 months (aside from holdover Peter Bacque, now of the T-D.)

    Walt Lindsay caused more than 100 lost newspaper jobs in this town. The only Prog people who benefited from him were the realty sales agent (Wes) and broker (moi) who got a commission selling him a house.

    (Confession: Walt and I later were friends for a few decades and I still feel guilty about not hating who my comrades hated.)

  12. I agree, Rey. The Worrells did, indeed, give us a third-rate newspaper. I remember when they fired my fellow AHS alumnus, Gary Cramer (son of Chris). I don’t have any use for Media General, either. The Progress ought to be a locally owned paper. Maybe we can snatch it up at the rumored public auction. Too bad they got rid of the Web press. Next step is publishing the thing as a .azw! The big Kindle looks pretty good, but I ain’t got the 500 bucks…. If I buy it, I’m firing Mrs. Shelburne and hiring real, honest-to-god-human proofreaders!

  13. I was there in 1971 when they fired his father. In fact, Chris Cramer was the first in the newsroom to feel Worrell’s boot. Worrel told him he had to quit being, along with sports editor at the Prog, sports editor for WCHV and the play-by-play voice of the Cavaliers.

    Radio was a major part of his income, and 90% of his professional clout among sports editors, and he wasn’t about to give it up. So he was summarily canned after 20 years of terrific service to the Prog.

    He turned to selling insurance and died prematurely.

    In 1958 or 59 I was assigned by WCHV to do the color and engineering for UVa basketball games that Chris did p-by-p for. In those days we played teams like Navy and W&L in addition to the ACC crowd. And we did a tournament that year and probably another year down in Greensboro, or was it Charlotte. Someplace with a terrific steak house.

    Red meat was the only thing Chris and I had in common.

  14. Thanks. Didn’t Peter Bacque leave to go work for the B-S, the Baltimore Sun, that is?

  15. Peter was with the T-D as recently as July 12 when his byline appeared under, “State will mothball rest stops for possible reopenings”

  16. Don’t know how we got from the Charlottesville Bicentennial Ballad to the state of the Daily Progress. But it is very interesting history indeed. Shows how things have been consistently always getting worse, from Walt Lindsay’s canning union employees(isnt there some law against that) on up to the present sorry state Media General has brought it to.
    At least under the Worrells it wasn’t a rightwing rag, what other faults they may have had. Do you remember that the Progress was the first paper in the country to endorse Bill Clinton in 1992? A far cry from what Media General has turned it into.

  17. Waldo….perhaps you should publish some of these comments as an article…”History of the Progress”. Folks might miss it here in the comments section.

  18. “Do you remember that the Progress was the first paper in the country to endorse Bill Clinton in 1992?” I could never understand why anybody would care who was endorsed by an editor of a newspaper.

  19. I’ll take that bait. Editorial writers are well-informed. Since they are firewalled from the rest of the paper, and only write a few hundred words a day at best, I guess they spend the rest of the time reading the news.

  20. Editorial writers are passionate, biased, opinionated and individual. They bring a lot of baggage to the table, particularly their values. It is not only important to consider what they are saying, but, also, what they are not saying. The art comes from not indicating any of this in their writings. I remember Jack Kilpatrick’s writings in the fifties in defense of segregation. I remember that the editor of DP wrote several editorials in strong support of urban renewal. I remember the editor of the DP endorsing the City’s gift of $11M to the Omni Hotel.
    “…I guess they spend the rest of the time reading the news.” I guess they spend a great deal of their time reading other people’s opinions that they tend to agree with. That’s why certain papers are considered leftish and some are considered rightish.

  21. James Kilpatrick was also called Jack Kilpatrick. His full name is James Jackson Kilpatrick.
    Regarding editorial writers-what they write is usually not their opinion. Its the opinion of the publisher/owner of the paper.
    Tom Worrell was more liberal-leaning. Media General is well over to the right. That is what is reflected in the editorials-not Anita Shelburne’s own views. TWhat she writes has to be approved by those above her.
    Thats how it is one asumes with most or all newspapers.

  22. Does anyone recall when Kilpo wrote about someone in Cville? His nationally syndicated column resulted in a change in rules at HHS, and a bending of Virginia social welfare rules by the governor to accommodate one person.

    First one to name the person involved can buy the rest of us a pizza.

  23. I will not answer during Massive Resistance when I used to read the Richmond Times Dispatch to find out what went on in federal court because DP didn’t carry that story on a daily basis. Since I didn’t answer the question, I’m not buying pizza.

  24. Here’s an article on that unpleasant era, complete with a photo of Kilpo at his desk.

    http://www.lva.virginia.gov/exhibits/brown/resistance.htm

    Here’s an excerpt from Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr.’s famous “To those who” speech. He regretted having made it and referred to it as “that damned speech.” Almond was considered a great orator, in his day.

    http://www.lva.virginia.gov/exhibits/radio/audio/Gov_Almond_Defiance(clip).mp3

    I did an interview c.10 years ago with R.M. “Jack” Davis, who served on Charlottesville’s Massive Resistance city council, when funeral director William “Bill” Hill was mayor. Jack said that the governor himself would come to the council meeting and pressure them to keep the schools segregated. Although he was a product of his era, Jack was a public-spirited individual. I never heard him make a racist remark.

  25. That Almond speech has eerily vague remembrances. It’s been so long ago, and my memory of those days and before is fading, but I do remember that they were some exciting times. Thanks for the link.
    It’s funny that the local school board voted to desegregate Lane and Venable; the Governor, by act of the legislature, shut those two schools down; but, the school board was successfully sued to reopen the schools. Almond did seem to be humbled (or embarrassed) by it all.

  26. An amazing recording on that list is “C.T Lucy, General Manager of WRVA, interviews Freeman Gosden, Amos, of Amos ‘n’ Andy, June 21, 1950”

    Why? Because shortly thereafter, probably after Brown v. Board, WRVA banned all blacks from its airways under all circumstances. Even recording stars with huge white followings like Nat Cole and Johnny Mathis were banned. Gosden was white but his voice was the wrong color for WRVA.

    Later station Manager John Tansey set the policy and was adamant about it.

    I used to drop down to their studios in some hotel late at night to visit my friend Lou Dean, the all-night DJ. He thought the ban ridiculous.

    Tansey interviewed me for a job at WRVA as a newsman in 1959 and we talked about the ban. His attitude was that the 50,000 watt clear channel voice of Richmond represented the city leadership and that leadership was 100% segregationist and totally opposed to race mixing at any level.

    Stations without such foolishness soon became far more popular and successful in Richmond than WRVA. The rise of TV and other shifts in society changed radio from being middle-class entertainment to a jukebox for the help. By the time WRVA discovered that, the listeners were all gone, all except little old ladies that advertisers wanted no part of.

  27. Gosden was a Richmond native. He and Charles Correl started out as Sam and Henry up in Chicago in the mid ’20’s. I’ve got an old Victor Talking Machine Company recording of them before they moved to another station and were forced to change the name of the act. The record is called “Sam and Henry at the Dentist.”

    WRVA was the station of the Lost Cause. Another Newsleader editor, historian Douglas Southall Freeman did a weekly broadcast. To be fair, they did at least one interview with a man that liked to poke fun at sentimentality of the old South: James Branch Cabell. I don’t know if an aircheck survives, but, if so, I’d love to hear it. Cabell had a local connection. His first cousin was novelist and poet Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy, of Castle Hill.

    Of course, I’m way too young to know any of this stuff. I’ll defer to Rey for further details, after station identification!

  28. Banning blacks from the airways under all circumstances, even entertainers. Talk about racial extremism!I had not heard that story.
    To be fair, Kilpatrick later repudiated his racial views. I read a column of his collected in I think its The Foxes Union volume of how he was forced to stop and think after seeing the behavior of the Greensboro sit-ins protesters in 1960 and contrasting it with the behavior of those who attacked them-“It gives one pause” he said.
    Speaking Of James Branch Cabell he wrote some very delightful, whimsical fantasy fiction which anyone into that genre might like to check out.

  29. Like to said something related to the post about WRVA.
    I have heard(and maybe Rey Barry could confirm it) that the Daily Progress for years had a policy of never running pictures of black people in the paper.
    In fact, they were seldom mentioned unless one was charged with a crime. That the Tribune was started to give the black community a voice.
    Supposedly this changed in 1949. The sports section always ran pictures of major league baseball’s batting champions and Most Valuable Player Award winners.
    In 1949 Jackie Robinson won both for the National League and the paper decided to make an exception.
    Don’t know if this story is true, but would not be surprised if it were.

  30. Cabell became famous when his novel “Jurgen” was banned in New York. There was an obscenity trial based largely on the question, according to Cabell, “When is a sword merely a sword?” The silly trial brought Cabell both fame and fortune. It did not, however, affect his prose style, which remained stiff and “mannered,” though worth getting used to to read his mid ’20’s novel “The High Place,” which is quite funny. His late non-fiction work, especially “Let Me Lie,” is also amusing and well worth reading. Most critics didn’t care for his later fiction, written as Branch Cabell. He spent his final years at 3201 Monument Avenue in Richmond, wintering in St. Augustine. He was friends with many second American renaissance writers, including Sinclair Lewis, Carl van Vechten, Joseph Hergesheimer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, H.L. Mencken, and, of course, Ellen Glasgow. He was royally pissed off with Glasgow for the Cabell chapter in her wonderful autobiography “The Woman Within.” Edgar McDonald wrote a scholarly bio, “James Branch Cabell and Richmond-in-Virginia,” published in 1993. Cabell’s own memoir, “As I Remember It,” saves his final chapter for Glasgow. The chapter, entitled “Speaks of a Great Lady,” is a masterpiece of the backhanded compliment. Glasgow and Cabell hosted Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, when they visited the late capital of the Confederacy. The visit was arranged by mutual friend Carlo van Vechten, who gave them the monickers Mama (Toklas) and Baby Woojums. Have forgotten the year. Sorry.

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