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“T he Lost Art of Hollerin’”

Hollerin’ is considered by some to be the earliest form of communication between humans. It is a traditional form of communication used in rural areas before the days of telecommunications to convey long-distance messages. Evidence of hollerin’, or derivations thereof such as yodeling or hunting cries, exists worldwide among many early peoples and is still be practiced in certain societies of the modern world. In one form or another, the holler has been found to exist in Europe, Africa and Asia as well as the US. Each culture used or uses hollers differently, although almost all cultures have specific hollers meant to convey warning or distress. Otherwise hollers exist for virtually any communicative purpose imaginable -- greetings, general information, pleasure, work, etc. The hollers featured at the National Hollerin’ Contest typically fall into one of four categories: distress, functional, communicative or pleasure.

Within the US, particularly the Southeast, folklore researchers have found the practice of hollerin’ to be present primarily among traditionally black communities. Although hollerin’ is rarely found to have survived in white communities, many folklorist believe it to have once been widespread throughout the region and practiced by both whites and blacks alike. Oddly, in Sampson County, North Carolina, the reverse of the norm is true; while hollerin’ has continued to live on in white localities, there is little or no evidence of its existence among the black population. (The Rounder Collective, Hollerin’ Record Jacket, 1975, p.5).

Although similarities abound -- particularly in sound, hollerin’ as defined by the Spivey’s Corner contest, is not the same thing as yodeling or other farm or hunting calling. Rather, it is viewed, at least by Sampson County natives, as an art form to be taken seriously. (The Rounder Collective, Hollerin’ Record Jacket, 1975, p.4). Its roots, however, can be traced back to the men working on rafts in the 1700s, when logs were transported from Sampson County via its many rivers and streams to Wilmington. The loggers operating the rafts hollered back and forth to one another about their rafts so that they wouldn’t run into each other, or so that if stuck, others would come to their aid. The tradition has survived since its colonial origins.

The “trademark” holler of Sampson County, NC is one considered unique because of its virtuoso rendering. This holler “consists primarily of rapid shifts between natural and falsetto voice within a limited gapped scale” and the typical melodic movement “consists simply of alterations between the first, third and fifth of the scale” so that the voice is “employed almost as a musical instrument.” (The Rounder Collective, Hollerin’ Record Jacket, 1975, p.11). These hollers can travel and be heard up to three miles in distance. Check out Suzie Bolotin's video example (low bandwidth or high bandwidth).

Types of Hollers

The hollers native to Sampson County can be classified in one of the following groups:

Distress hollers: In many ways, hollers were essential in rural communities; they notified others within hearing range of imminent danger or brought assistance to otherwise isolated farmers when needed. In the past, locals say, hollers have helped locate lost children, saved drowning men, and even ended house fires. “There was just as much a need of hollerin’ as there was of eatin’ at that day and time,” says 1971 Hollerin’ Champion, Leonard Emanuel. (The Rounder Collective, Hollerin’ Record Jacket, 1975, p.4). Distress hollers are typified by a falsetto tone and sense of urgency. (Ermon and Bizzell, p.3). Real Audio Example.

Functional hollers: These are the hollers used in day-to-day life on the farm or in the field. Each farmer or rancher had his own distinctive hollers to bring in this hogs, cattle, sheep or dogs. This was particularly useful when farmers’ animals grazed common land. A farmer could round up his hogs with his unique holler without disturbing any of his neighbors’ hogs. (The Rounder Collective, Hollerin’ Record Jacket, 1975, p.2.) This is also the type of holler used each morning to let nearby farmers know that one was up and about, as well as by women to call home their families from the fields at the end of the day. Example.

Communicative hollers: “Howdy neighbor” is the main purpose of these cries. Ermon Godwin explains: “A man working alone in a field might holler just to hear a reassuring answer from his neighbor in the next field a mile or two away” (Ermon and Bizzell, p.3). Women also frequently used this form of holler. Example.

Expressive hollers: Some hollers are voiced purely for pleasure’s sake -- they are known as expressive hollers. Often, this is a hollered version of a popular tune or melody and serves no purpose other than of entertainment. Many of the contest champions have won using expressive hollers, particularly in recent years. Even North Carolina's Agriculture Commissioner Jim Graham gets into the act with a hollerin' impression of a mule. You won't believe the Duet, but my favorite is the Quartet rendition of "Amazing Grace."

Get Your Own Hollers

HOLLERIN', originally released in the mid-1970s, spotlights the 1969-1975 winners of the National Hollerin' Contest in Spivey's Corner, North Carolina. It features hollered songs, animal hollers, just plain hollers and hollering anecdotes by the performers.

Performers include: Leonard Emanuel, O.B. Jackson, Dewey Jackson, Dan McClamb & Percy, Floyd Lee.

Recorded at Spivey's Corner, North Carolina between 1975 and 1976.

Find out who's on the Hollerin' CD as well as how to order online here.

The Hollerin' CD is made available through CDNow. Some of the proceeds from the sale of this CD purchased from this Web site will be donated to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's MetaLab, which hosts this site.



Personal Hollerin'

Order a Hollerin' CD from CD Now.

Video Hollerin'

Watch this!

lo-res video

intro (39 sec. buffer @ 33.6)

lion (2 min.)

quick (1 min.)

hi-res video

intro (5 min.)

lion (13 min.)

quick (4 min.)

Audio Hollers

Select a holler from the category at the right or choose the Hollerin' Sampler (all in streaming Real Audio).