1952 Wire Recordings from the collection of John Cohen
Reverend Gary Davis was a great singer, preacher and guitar player whose distinctive finger picking approach has inspired generations of guitar pickers both in old blues and in the urban revival. Before his move to NYC in the 1940s, he had recorded commercial 78s (as Blind Gary) while he lived in Durham, North Carolina. They can be heard on Yazoo 2011. He made one 78 rpm recording in New York City in 1949.
John Cohen heard him perform at the Leadbelly Memorial concert in 1950, and in 1952 (with his brother Mike) made these wire recordings of Davis at his Harlem home. In 1953 Cohen made tape recordings of Davis which have been recently re-issued by Smithsonian Folkways “If I had My Way” (SFW CD 40123). Only recently (2009) he located the original wire recordings, which had been donated years ago to the Library of Congress American Folklife Center. The Library of Congress was able to transfer this material to a raw digital format. These are some of the earliest recordings of Davis in New York before he became famous in the north. In 1952, twenty year old John Cohen was unprepared to receive such a strong dose of emotional spiritual music, overwhelmed by the power of Davis’s singing and shouting at close range. – John Cohen