Sometimes you never know what you will learn while on Facebook. The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Tennessee, shared a photo of Alfred G. Karnes of Corbin, Kentucky. The caption included, “88 Years Ago Today: On July 29, 1927, two gifted musicians from Corbin, Kentucky — Alfred G. Karnes and B. F. Shelton — arrived in Bristol, ready to record with Ralph Peer. Their recordings, such as “Where We’ll Never Grow Old” and “Darlin’ Cora,” became some of the most significant and influential country music recordings the Bristol Sessions produced. Alfred G. Karnes, later in life; image courtesy of the Karnes family.” That photo is to the right.
Curiosity got to me as I wanted to find out some more information on Alfred G. Karnes and Ernest Phipps. After a little bit of digging, I found out that both men were preachers from Corbin area. Their recording sessions in 1927 and 1928 in Bristol were the earliest recorded examples of Anglo-American gospel music.
Members of the Free Holiness Pentecostal Church, along with Ernest Phipps, recorded six songs in each session. According to the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, “The resulting twelve commercial recordings, with their evangelical lyrics, repetitions, strong rhythms, improvised harmonies, hand clapping, and guitar backup, provide a rare record of the fervent, intense Holiness style of gospel singing heard in many Appalachian churches in the early twentieth century.”
Those recordings were, “Do, Lord, Remember Me,” “Old Ship of Zion,” “Don’t Grieve After Me,” “If the Light is Gone Out of Your Soul,” and “Bright Tomorrow.” The last two sold 12,000 copies and was in print until the 1930s. Ernest Phipps would pass away on April 17, 1963.
Alfred G. Karnes was born in Virginia, but moved over to the Corbin, Kentucky, area. During his recordings in the Bristol sessions, he did it solo. He recorded 13 songs, with only 4 released including “To the Work,” “I am Bound for the Promised Land,” “When they Ring the Golden Bells,” and “Called to the Foreign Land.” Karnes passed away on May 18, 1958.
Click here for a complete listing of Alfred G. Karnes and Ernest Phipps from the Discography of American Historical Recordings.
Like Kentucky history and country music? Be sure to join us on Facebook for more stories and photos.
Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website with over 20 years experience in music journalism, concert planning, photography, and promotion. Jessica is a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the 2019 Leadership Kentucky BRIGHT Class and a recipient of the Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award. Listen to her each week on WFKY on Friday mornings for the Nashville News Roundup.