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A Daunting Task with a Great Result, "Musical Kentucky" features a Song from each County by The Frazier History Museum

Musical Kentucky - a song from each County
Simon Meiners
Musical Kentucky - a song from each County

A playlist that features a song and artist from each county in our great State of Kentucky was quite a daunting task for researcher and communications specialist Simon Meiners of The Frazier History Museum. But it was something he found himself inspired by and passionate about, enough so to do the proper research and hours spent listening to compile it all together as a playlist called "Musical Kentucky: A Song From Each County". The project is part of their Cool Kentucky exhibition. Each month of 2023, 10 songs from 10 counties were added to the list. It ends this month in December. We asked Simon how the project came to be and a couple of other questions. We also have the playlist for you to check out below and descriptions of each artist here.

LS: Gathering a playlist to feature an artist from every county in Kentucky had to be a daunting task. Who came up with the concept and how did you find the artists?
Simon Meiners: As a researcher at a Kentucky history museum, I read Kentucky books, binge Kentucky podcasts, and visit Kentucky sites. But I’d never much paid attention to Kentucky’s music. So in 2021, I opened my Spotify and unfollowed everyone. From scratch, I started following artists from Kentucky. By “from,” I mean the artist was born in Kentucky, or lived here, or summered here (like John Prine). Next, I created a Google Sheet to track my favorite songs. Soon, I had built a collection of songs, dating from 1910 on, representing about half of Kentucky’s 120 counties. So I set out to find music from the remaining half. I mostly used Google. Some counties posed a challenge. (Nicholas County was tough. I got so desperate that I asked an elementary school’s band teacher to upload music by the school’s choir! Ultimately, though, I found the obituary of Bill Roundtree, a thrash metal guitarist born in Nicholas County whose music is on Spotify.) The final product is a 120-song playlist called Musical Kentucky: A Song from each County. In January 2023, we rolled it out in our newsletter, Frazier Weekly. Since 120 divides by 12 neatly, we opted to roll out just 10 songs at a time, alphabetically: in January, we rolled out songs from Adair to Boyd County; in February, Boyle to Carlisle; and so on. In December, the playlist concludes with Trigg to Woodford.

What was your most surprising find in the bunch?
A few songs stand out. First, there’s “Sixty to One” by RISK from Lyon County. By my math, close to 10 percent of the residents of Lyon County are inmates at the Kentucky State Penitentiary, a.k.a. the “Castle on the Cumberland”—a supermax prison on the banks of Lake Barkley. In 1981, three KSP inmates attempted escape; they were caught and punished with solitary confinement in “the Hole.” Around this time, they and a fourth inmate formed a rock band called RISK. In 1984, just before the guitarist was paroled, RISK recorded about 50 songs. “Sixty to One” is a reference to their odds of succeeding at escape that night in 1981. Another surprising find was “Phoebe the Yodeling Cowgirl” by Phoebe White, an adolescent yodeler from Laurel County. I’m obsessed with that song! It’s an earworm. Phoebe is one of several Kentucky artists on our playlist—Kelsey Waldon, Leah Blevins, RYVOLI, Nat Myers, the Local Honeys—I’m eager to follow in the years to come.

What was your takeaway after doing this? 
Kentucky music is not a monolith. Yes, Kentucky is known for its folk, bluegrass, and country music—all of which you’ll find represented on the playlist. But you’ll also find genres such as emo, gospel, new wave, Motown, opera, techno-funk, Latin pop, jug band, Irish slides, show tunes, and more. The breadth and quality of Kentucky music is unrivaled. What’s more, Kentucky musicians are human beings with complicated, messy lives! They make songs about mining coal and picking blackberries, sure, but also coping with hypochondria, crushing cars with a John Deere tractor, and bedding a hater’s dad just for spite. It’s a rich tapestry.

What kind of responses have you received?
I’ve receive a lot of positive feedback—media inquiries and song pitches. Best of all, though, I’m working with my colleagues at the Frazier to fold this playlist into a larger project we’re curating at the museum. This exhibit will explore music, stories, and history from all of Kentucky’s 120 counties. Keep an eye out for the details in early 2024! Subscribe to Frazier Weekly to stay informed.

Laura is the afternoon host from 3-6 pm weekdays. Email Laura at lshine@lpm.org