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Give Me That Old Time Music: WRVA’s Old Dominion Barn Dance

Since its creation in 1823, the Library of Virginia has been renowned for its vast collection of books, manuscripts, and maps. A closer look at the holdings reveals hidden gems that provide a unique window into the history and culture of Virginia. The WRVA Radio Collection includes 637 CDs containing 317 hours of sound recordings, along with 52 cubic feet of administrative and promotional materials. This historically important collection includes recordings of political speeches, interviews and news programs, but also an intriguing selection of entertainment and music programs.

One highlight is the Old Dominion Barn Dance, a program dedicated to country music that ran from 1946 to 1957. Mary Arlene Higdon Workman, better known as “Sunshine Sue,” emceed the show. In addition to being broadcast to other states, the show also aired on Armed Forces Radio. The Old Dominion Barn Dance showcased a variety of acts every Saturday night, and was so popular the musicians toured and played live shows. Gregg Kimball, the Director of Public Services & Outreach at the Library, noted that “thousands of folks across the country gathered around their radios every week to listen to WRVA’s Old Dominion Barn Dance. The show featured country icons such as Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters, Joe Maphis, and Grandpa Jones. Modern country music would not be the cultural force that it is today without the influence and popularity of the many barn dance radio shows that flourished in the 1940s and 1950s—including Richmond’s Old Dominion Barn Dance.”

If you are interested in listening to these programs, they are available upon request in the Library of Virginia Manuscripts Reading Room. You can also view publicity photographs and other promotional materials. If you have questions please call Archives Reference Services at 804-692-3888 or email archdesk@lva.virginia.gov. An online exhibition on the WVRA collection includes sound clips from the Old Dominion Barn Dance.

-Dawn Tinnell, Reference Archivist

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