Mary Wheeler: Mary Wheeler was born in Paducah in a house overlooking the Ohio River. Although girls of her day were expected to play the piano or other such instruments, they were not expected to become career musicians or folk song collectors. But, with the encouragement of her mother, Mary Wheeler did just that. She spent 12 summers studying at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, earning a degree in voice and a graduate degree in musicology.
In the fall of 1926 Wheeler went to teach at Hindman Settlement School. It was there that she began collecting the traditional music of Appalachia. She trekked up and down Troublesome Creek in eastern Kentucky, carefully writing down the words and music of the people she befriended, usually bringing small gifts such as packages of needles or dress patterns to the women in exchange.
Mary Wheeler later returned to western Kentucky, where she focused on collecting songs of the Ohio River packet boat era. Growing up she had watched these boats pass her house, and now she was able to go up and down the river visiting elderly men who had worked as steamboat hands in their youth and who had songs to share.
Wheeler published some of the treasures that she collected in both eastern and western Kentucky, in Kentucky Mountain Folk-Songs and Steamboatin’ Days.
Listen to a clip from an interview with Mary Wheeler. To view a transcript of this clip while you listen, click on "interview" and then on transcript.