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Friday, April 13, 2012

Goin' back to Sumter

Left-right: Bill Poplin, Edna Poplin Elmore,
David Jackson, and "Uncle" China Poplin
Amidst the banjos and ouds drifting out of The Ralph Rinzler Archives and Special Collections, another (decidedly un-folk-y) instrument makes itself known. These days, the distinctive hum of a flatbed scanner accompanies us in our work on the Save America's Treasures grant project. The project's goal is to digitize one of our most important collections--the Moses and Frances Asch Collection, which includes the papers relating to Folkways Records. The collection is rich with stories, many of which are illuminated through the process of digitization.

The latest folder to see the scanner's spotlight was filled with materials relating to Folkways Records FA 2306, The Poplin Family of Sumter, South Carolina. Recorded in 1962 by Jack Tottle, the album contains beautiful renditions of Southern gospel and old-time classics, as well as original pieces (listen to samples). Included in the file are black and white photographs of the family playing around their Sumter home. Some of these photographs were not used for the album and the negatives were poorly stored for some time before they were properly processed, resulting in bent film strips. Others were reproduced on album packaging and liner notes at a low quality. The negatives might have remained unnoticed and tucked away in an envelope, but now they are a perfect example of why our efforts to digitize this material are so important: preserving the Asch collection in digital form sheds light into its darker corners.

Left-right: Edna, China. David and Bill
(the creases in the negative cause the white bands)
These photographs were taken by Jack Tottle in September 1962. China Poplin and Edna Poplin Elmore, brother and sister, grew up in a musical home--both of their parents were accomplished musicians, as were their six siblings (side note: their father, Henry Washington Poplin, settled in Sumter in 1870 after walking from Anson County, North Carolina, approximately 80 miles). Also pictured is China's son, Bill. David Jackson was a friend of the Poplin family. In the photographs, China plays an Epiphone 5-string banjo, Edna and David play Gibson guitars, and Bill plays a Bell Tone mandolin.

Look out for more project highlights as we make our way through the collection!

Left-right: Edna, China, Bill, and David.
-Cecilia Peterson, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Special Collections


  1. Thanks so much for posting these! I'm working on a MA thesis on the Poplin Family at the University of North Carolina, and would love to hear from you if find anything else! Amanda Lynn Stubley

  2. Im trying to find Edna Poplin do u know where I can find her?