The National Hollerin' Contest is being held today in Spivey's Corner North Carolina. All devotees of Americana and southern folkways, as well as those interested in dying cultures and dying arts should see and hear this spectacle at least once.
I try to make it to the Hollerin' Contest when I can, and so keenly regret that I'm stuck in the office this afternoon, because I'm missing some great barcecue and some great entertainment, and the weather is perfect.
Hollerin’ is considered by some to be the earliest form of communication between humans. It is a traditional form of communication used in rural areas before the days of telecommunications to convey long-distance messages. Evidence of hollerin’, or derivations thereof such as yodeling or hunting cries, exists worldwide among many early peoples and is still be practiced in certain societies of the modern world. In one form or another, the holler has been found to exist in Europe, Africa and Asia as well as the US. Each culture used or uses hollers differently, although almost all cultures have specific hollers meant to convey warning or distress. Otherwise hollers exist for virtually any communicative purpose imaginable — greetings, general information, pleasure, work, etc. The hollers featured at the National Hollerin’ Contest typically fall into one of four categories: distress, functional, communicative or pleasure.
Within the US, particularly the Southeast, folklore researchers have found the practice of hollerin’ to be present primarily among traditionally black communities. Although hollerin’ is rarely found to have survived in white communities, many folklorist believe it to have once been widespread throughout the region and practiced by both whites and blacks alike. Oddly, in Sampson County, North Carolina, the reverse of the norm is true; while hollerin’ has continued to live on in white localities, there is little or no evidence of its existence among the black population.
But hollering has to be heard to be appreciated. The website linked above has samples of recorded hollering, as well as video, showing some classic hollers as well as the prodigious lungpower that every champion hollerer brings to his or her craft.
I know that a few of our readers and friends (tgb and triggercut, I'm looking at you) are hardcore music geeks and devotees of offbeat sounds, as I am. For them I recommend, highly, the Rounder Records compact disc known as Hollerin', which collects recordings of Hollerin' Contest champions from 1969 to 1975. It's still in print, and while I used to listen to it obsessively, I still haven't gone a year without giving it a full listen in the over a dozen years I've owned it.