GATLINBURG — The first episode of “Sepia Tones: Exploring Black Appalachian Music” is now available on Great Smoky Mountains Association’s podcast “Smoky Mountain Air.” Hosts William Turner and Ted Olson engage guests Loyal Jones, Sparky Rucker, and James Leva in a lively discussion about the roots of Appalachian music and their own roles in preserving these musical influences.

This episode is the first of a six-part podcast miniseries to be released throughout 2021. Topics will include the complex history of Black music in East Tennessee, Black sacred music, Black women musicians, and the diverse landscape of music communities in Southern Appalachia. Turner and Olson have planned a thoughtful conversation with dynamic guests and inspiring musical selections for each episode, which is quickly made evident from this first release.

“It’s a wide-ranging conversation that travels from the origins of the banjo to the universal fellowship between musicians that breaks all kinds of barriers, with lots of discussion about the festivals and performances that the guests have been part of and how they’ve helped preserve rich musical influences,” said Valerie Polk, publications associate and videographer with GSMA who regularly co-hosts the podcast and helps to produce it.

The first episode showcases three significant influencers in today’s Appalachian music community. Loyal Jones served as director of the Appalachian Center now named in his honor at Berea College in Berea, KY. He established the annual festival of traditional music at Berea and the Appalachian Sound Archive and is the author of numerous books of regional interest.

Sparky Rucker grew up in Knoxville, and has become an internationally recognized folk singer, musician, and storyteller. An educator, performer, and social activist, he has been involved in the Civil Rights movement since the 1950s. James Leva is a multi-instrumentalist playing the fiddle, guitar, and banjo, and he’s a singer and songwriter. His work with the Lost Tribe of Country Music transcends racial and generational boundaries as well as musical genres. Future guests include other present and past musicians and historians.

“We look forward to conversations with some of the leading luminaries of Appalachian studies and Appalachian music,” said co-host Dr. Olson. “These people will be from many walks of life, many different backgrounds, but what we all share in common is a love for Appalachia and belief that African American musicians and African American culture need to be part of the conversation.”

Turner also hopes the miniseries will provide a platform for the voices and stories sometimes missing from conversations about Appalachian music. “‘Sepia Tones’ gives me an opportunity to use one of those acronyms that comes on my email a lot — ICYMI. I think that stands for ‘in case you missed it,’” said Turner. “And we think at the end of this podcast, for another acronym, many of our listeners will learn things, since we have, which will make them SMH — or ‘shake my head.’ That’s ‘Sepia Tones.’”

“Sepia Tones” is funded through the African American Experience in the Smokies project in collaboration with Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is distributed through GSMA’s existing podcast, “Smoky Mountain Air,” and available through Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher, and most other major streaming services. The first episode of the miniseries can be found at

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