Friday, March 27, 2020

May the Circle Be Unbroken—Murfin Home Confinement Music Festival

Can the Circle be Unbroken by the original Carter Family, 1927.

Those of us of a certain age recall the popular game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.  The idea was that the busy actor could be connected to anyone else in Hollywood in less than six steps.  In fact it was shown that he was connected to most contemporary actors by two steps and even those from the dawn of motion pictures by three.  The idea that any two people in the world could be connected in six steps originated with Hungarian playwright Frigyes Karinthy in 1929 and was popularized in 1990 play Six Degrees Separation written by John Guare

Six degrees of Kevin Bacon.
The concept has been generalized to the average social distance in the global population calculable by a logarithm.  Several experiments to test that hypothesis have consistently produced results that hover around six.  In the largest test to date tracing internet connection through social media and messaging found that almost everyone could be connected in 6.6 steps.  Of course that was biased by computer access and the relative wealth and education levels that entails.  But many population experts believe that similar numbers could be produced if personal connections, extended families, ancestry, business relationships, and correspondence could be traced except for the most isolated and primitive societies like the uncontacted native tribes of the Amazon.
The point of all this is that by this point in the Coronavirus Pandemic each of us have become aware of connections of two or three steps to those who have been tested for and contracted virus and even those who have now died.  Some of will have a 0 degree of separation—meaning that they have personally been infected.  Putting aside celebrities who have been reported, we find links in our immediate and extended families, work associates, social groups, and communities.  We are indeed very connected.

Not to be morbid about it, but most of us have already or will lose someone close to them.  Which brings us to today’s song—Will the Circle Be Unbroken which is apt on at least two levels.  The song was written in 1907 by lyricist Ada R. Habershon and composer Charles H. Gabriel but has often been unattributed as it spread via parlor musicians and community dances over the next decades.
It was collected and adapted by A.P. Carter from isolated Mace Springs, Virginia.  It is not clear if at first he was aware of the original authorship or had seen any sheet music.  He probably took notes from front porch performances during one of his many song collecting tours of the Appalachian region.  He called his version Can the Circle Be Unbroken and there was some variation in lyrics from the original.  It was one of the songs that the Carter Family—A.P., his wife Sara, and Maybelle who was Sara’s cousin and A.P.’s sister-in-law—recorded in their Victor sessions in Bristol, Tennessee in 1927 and again in August of 1935.  Subsequent recordings of the song by Sara and Maybelle and by Maybelle with her daughters the Carter sisters June, Helen, and Anita reverted to the original title as did most of the many covers based on the Carter Family song.

The Carter Family in 1927--Maybelle, Sara, and A.P.
By the way, in case you are interested Kevin Bacon is only three degrees from Mother Maybelle via Tommy Lee Jones in JFK then Johnny Cash in The Hunted who was the husband of June Carter and appeared with Mother Maybelle in numerous TV shows.

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