In the early 1900s, a singing school or gospel convention was a major social event that enticed people to walk for miles to learn to sing or to hear someone who already had. The shape-note teachers of those days conducted days or even weeks of nightly practice, which culminated in a performance that confirmed the teacher's skill. Quartet music originated in these settings.
Today, some area quartets still sound much like those early groups; others teach themselves to sing by imitating their favorite professional gospel ensembles.They travel every weekend in buses emblazoned with the names of their groups, with tapes and albums to sell. Through all the changes, the four-part southern harmony of Kentucky gospel music has remained the same.
In the words of these performers, through letters, diaries, and interviews, Montell details the attitudes and joys of those involved most deeply in the gospel music scene. He also brings the reader into their personal relationships, their professional jealousies, and their struggles to keep alive the music they love.
Included are accounts of haunted libraries, mansions, bedrooms, log cabins, bathrooms, college campuses, apartments, furniture, hotels, and distilleries, as well as reports of eerie visitations from ghostly grandmothers, husbands, daughters, uncles, cousins, babies, slaves, Civil War soldiers, dogs, sheep, and even wildcats. Almost all of Kentucky's 120 counties are represented. Though the book emphasizes the stories themselves, Montell offers an introduction discussing how local history, local character, and local flavor are communicated across the generations in these colorful stories.
Covering medical practice in the state from the early twentieth century through contemporary times, the episodes related in Tales from Kentucky Nurses reveal the significance of the nursing profession to the Bluegrass state's local life and culture. They include funny tales -- such as the story of an injured stripper who swore her pole had been sabotaged and an anecdote about a surgeon racing between hospitals who paid his speeding ticket twice, knowing he would have to hurry the other way in a few hours. Montell also presents moving stories like the recollections of a nurse who helped a frail cancer patient achieve his last wish of being baptized.
This valuable collection also features anecdotes from the famous Frontier Nursing Service, which provided essential care to families in remote areas of the state and whose leader, Mary Breckinridge, is remembered fondly for her wit and kindness. In addition, Montell's interviewees share ghost stories and describe folk remedies like the practice of placing an axe under a woman's pillow during labor to cut the pain. These firsthand accounts not only pay homage to an underappreciated profession but also preserve important aspects of Kentucky's history not likely to be recorded elsewhere.