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Emry Arthur

The family background of this 1920s Paramount recording artist is a pretty familiar combination for Appalachia. On one side, there is tragedy, in this case the mother of Emry Arthur dying when he was only a year old. On the other side, of course, is music. Arthur's dad was a respected bass singer in their county, promoting an active interest in a musical career for his son and proud of the several dozen recordings that were the result. His brothers were also all singers, and one of them, Henry Arthur, played fiddle with him. Emry Arthur sang and accompanied himself on guitar, proving not everyone can be a Django Reinhardt. While that gypsy guitar stylist's loss of several fingers did not prevent him from playing faster than most guitarists on the face of the earth, having a finger shot off in a hunting accident prevented Arthur from ever developing much more than a simple style of rhythm playing, although it is extremely effective. He married three times, finally winding up with a wife who could sing with him on records, as Della Hatfield did for both the Paramount and Vocalion labels. Indianapolis was this artist's home for most of his life, and it was labor such as working as an elevator operator that paid the bills, not his recordings or performances. A pity that he was not able to collect in advance for all the influence he would have on the music scene, just one large example of which was his popularizing the traditional ballad "A Man of Constant Sorrow" through his recordings. Some old-time music scholars actually credit him with authorship of the song, although a question mark is always attached to this claim as firmly as a tail to a dog. He never established a legal copyright to the song, which is for example what his fellow Appalachian musician Frank Proffitt was able to do with "Tom Dooley." In the late '20s, he played backup guitar on some Dock Boggs sessions, material that was reissued to great acclaim by the Revenant label in the '90s. But by 1932, the current demand for his style had become miniscule and he was forced to sweat it out full-time in a meat packing plant. He made his final studio recordings in 1935 for Decca. He did not make his presence felt during the folk revival of the '60s, and it is assumed he had completely stopped playing by then. ~ Eugene Chadbourne
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Paramount Old Time Recordings - Disc A

Disc 1
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