herstory: ola belle reed

welcome to herstory- an ongoing journal series where I share stories of the women who continue to inspire me and my craft. I hope they inspire you too.

Ola Belle Reed

b. August 17th 1916 Lansing NC

d. August 16th 2002 Rising Sun MD

 

Ola Belle Reed was an Appalachian claw-hammer banjo player, singer, and songwriter. She was born into a musical family in Lansing North Carolina, where she lived until her family moved to northeastern Maryland, seeking to escape the economic burden of the Great Depression. Throughout her career Reed wrote and sang many songs that spoke to her Appalachian heritage, family traditions, social issues, and her religious values. Reed suffered a stroke in 1987 that left her unable to perform. She died in 2002 in Rising Sun Maryland.


The first song of Belle Reed's that I fell completely in love with is "My Epitah"; I instantly connected to the clarity and rawness of her voice and lyrics. The song’s lyrics discuss death, social conventions around death, and briefly touch on the afterlife. As a printmaker during my undergraduate years I found myself investigating similar themes- there’s a special kind of magic in discovering artists who reflect back to you so many of your thoughts and questions about life. Please listen below.


Listening to Ola Belle Reed speak I feel as though I'm having an intimate conversation, sitting right next to her. On the album, My Epitah: A Documentary in Song and Lyric, each track has both a song and an excerpt of Belle Reed speaking, relaying personal anecdotes and general thoughts on life. This alternating format of song and speech helps to contextualize Belle Reed’s music, offering a more complete portrait of this incredible woman and artist.

 

 Please click below if you would like to know more about her personal history:

https://folkways-media.si.edu/liner_notes/smithsonian_folkways/SFW40202.pdf

 

A colletion of her songs is available to listen to on Youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCu2B15gaG5VS3u9IFfXkCmQ/videos