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Ola Belle Reed: I’ve Endured


March 27, 2023 - June 30, 2023

Location: Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery

In a sepia toned photograph, five white men with guitars, a banjo and a violin stand behind a seated woman holding a banjo. Each man is identified by their names — Alex, James, Jim, Harold, Deacon — and the woman as Olabelle. A caption at the bottom says New River Boys 1959.

The Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery presents Ola Belle Reed: I’ve Endured, an exhibition that explores the life and work of nationally recognized bluegrass musician Ola Belle Reed, contextualizing her achievements within a history of migration from rural Appalachia north in the twentieth century.

With a voice born in the mountains and shaped by the hard times she lived and saw, Reed (1916–2002) established herself as a significant and influential banjo picker, singer, and songwriter of old-time mountain music.

This exhibition presents a variety of media including photographs and ephemera, as well as contemporary and archival recordings that trace the evolution and impact of Reed from the moment she first stepped on stage with the North Carolina Ridge Runners in 1936, through her time with the New River Boys & Girls, and culminating in the 1970s with her career as a groundbreaking solo artist.

Reed was one of an estimated two million migrants who left Appalachia during the Great Depression in search of work in industrial centers such as Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit, and Pittsburgh. They brought with them ways of life, including musical traditions, that maintained a connection to their southern home and transformed the culture of their adopted cities. Among these masses was the Reed-Campbell family who left Ashe County, North Carolina in 1934, settling first in southeastern Pennsylvania, then Maryland.

Reed played a critical role in establishing and maintaining a vital musical community along the Mason-Dixon Line. She co-hosted a radio program and was both proprietor of and performer at local concert venues. With a powerful voice, lyrics that spoke authentically of her rural roots, and her honest, straightforward musical approach, Reed and her passionate songs found a home in the folk-revival movement of the 1960s. Reed left an enduring legacy: her 1973 album Ola Belle Reed was added in 2019 to the National Recording Registry, her songs have become anthems of Appalachian life, and she is widely recognized as one of the most influential female bluegrass and folk musicians of all-time.

The exhibition is co-curated by the Library Gallery’s curator of exhibitions Emily Cullen and media and communications studies professor of the practice Bill Shewbridge with Tim Newby, author of Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin’ Sound and Its Legacy (McFarland, 2015).

Public Programs

On Thursday, May 11 at 5 p.m., the Library Gallery presents the premiere screening of the 45-minute documentary “I’ve Endured”: The music and legacy of Ola Belle Reed. directed by Bill Shewbridge, professor of the practice in UMBC’s Media and Communication Studies program. A reception will follow.

On Friday, June 2 at 8 p.m. in Earl and Darielle Linehan Concert Hall, the Library Gallery presents “I’ve Endured,” a concert honoring the music and legacy of nationally recognized bluegrass and old-time musician Ola Belle Campbell Reed (1916-2002). This performance brings together musicians and family members who worked with her, along with those who continue to carry on in the tradition of old-time music, including musicians Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, The Honey Dewdrops, Hugh Campbell, and Dave Reed, with Cliff Murphy, director of the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

Visitor Information

Admission is free. For complete driving and parking information, please visit here.

Library Gallery hours:
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Thursday: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.




March 27, 2023
June 30, 2023
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