Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 2 January 1886

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Today In Mountain Dulcimer History: 2 January 1886

Postby dbennett » Fri Jan 06, 2017 4:00 pm

Josiah H. Combs (1886-1960) was born in Hazard, Perry County, Kentucky. Combs grew up in Hindman, Kentucky where he learned folksongs from family members, especially his mother.

In 1902 he started at the newly established Hindman Settlement School, where his songs came to the attention of Katherine Pettit, the school director and, with the help of folk music scholar George Lyman Kittredge, arranged for their publication in the Journal of American Folklore. Combs was Hindman’s first graduate and in 1905 went on to attend Transylvania University, in Lexington, Kentucky.

Between 1911 and 1918, he taught high school and college in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. At the same time Combs also gave public lectures and song recitals, accompanying himself on the mountain dulcimer.

In 1911 Combs and Dr. Hubert G. Shearin published A Syllabus of Kentucky Folk Songs, which included songs from eastern and central Kentucky and in 1915, Twenty Mountain Songs. Combs’ other published works include The Kentucky Highlanders (1912), All That’s Kentucky (1915), and Folk Songs of the Kentucky Highlands (1939).

In The Kentucky Highlanders from a Native Mountaineer’s Viewpoint published in 1913 Josiah Combs wrote, “The “dulcimore” is the traditional piece that drones, in a sad strain, the nasal music of the ballad… The dulcimore is a unique survival of antique musical instruments... The dulcimore is rapidly becoming a thing of the past... Within a few more years and this strange old relic of by-gone days will pass. This strange music of the dulcimore appeals to the heart of the Mountaineer.”

After Army service during World War I, Combs taught English and Spanish at West Virginia University from 1922 through 1924. During this time, he continued his lecture and /recital activities and started his work toward his doctorate at the Sorbonne (University of Paris). Combs successfully defended his thesis in 1925, Folk-songs of the Southern United States, “in which he explored the origins of Appalachian songs and ballads as revealed in the language, names, and customs of the people he collected them from.”
JosiahCombs .jpg

David Bennett
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