Nearly 100-year-old songs recorded in Knoxville are now streaming online

More than 100 rare and historic songs are streamed online. They include old Appalachian tunes, blues and jazz songs.

Knoxville, Tenn. — Between 1929 and 1930, the St. James Hotel in downtown Knoxville was a place where musicians of all kinds made their mark. It was a time when labels were looking for all kinds of new artists – trying to find a way to satisfy new musical tastes and make money as radio listening exploded in popularity.

Thus, a New York record company partnered with a Knoxville-based furniture company to build a recording studio inside the St. James Hotel, according to reports. The studio has hosted swing bands, string orchestras and bands of old and has even helped jazz musicians find their audience.

Songs recorded at the hotel are now available online, streaming via “SmokyMountainRadio.” One of the stream’s organizers said that over 100 rare tracks are available through the stream.

Some of the songs include “Asleep At The Switch” by Lester McFarland and Robert A. Gardner and “I’m On My Way” by the Kentucky Holiness Singers.

Most of the artists at the studio near Market Square were professionals – or budding professionals. Some appeared in theaters, while others performed on the streets of Knoxville.

By the time the records recorded at the St. James Hotel were released, the Great Depression had hit and the entire industry was struggling to survive. The studio closed, and Appalachian artists had to find a new way to connect with audiences.

But for less than a year, the artists had the chance to write their songs into history and develop the unique sounds that East Tennessee and Appalachia are now famous for.


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Grace D. Erickson