About The Artist
Buell Hilton Kazee sang old time traditional songs and accompanied himself on clawhammer banjo with genuine authority. His recordings on the Brunswick label are counted among the best. In spite of his music's being deeply rooted traditional music, Kazee also had a good classical education and spent most of his adult life as a Baptist minister. After retirement, Buell recorded again and performed at numerous folk festivals.
A native of the Mash Fork community in rugged Magoffin County, Kentucky, Kazee's parents were mountain hymn singers and numerous neighbors played fiddle and banjo. While young Buell knew from his early teens that he wanted to become a minister, he still often played banjo and attended local entertainments with his high school principal.
After graduation he went to Georgetown College (in Kentucky). He studied English, Latin, Greek, and took voice lessons. When he obtained his degree, Buell worked briefly in Oklahoma, then took a position in Ashland, Kentucky, and later held a faculty position at Cumberland College.
While at Georgetown, he and others from the Georgetown Glee Club did a broadcast over WLW on April 9, 1925. The article found indicated Buell did "My Little Ireland Home." A few weeks later, the Glee Club did a broadcast on April 23 over WHAS in Louisville. The article indicated that Buell did a tenor solo, "Lassie O'Mine."
His singing started getting mentions in the headlines of articles. One occasion was an appearance before the Rotary Club in Georgetown. The article indicated that Buell H. Kazee would sing. He sang a solo accompanied by Margaret Thompson, "Smiling Through" and did three songs which he accompanied himself on the guitar, "When Mother Wielded the Slipper", "That Watermelon Smiling On The Vine", and "The Prisoner's Song."
In another article readers learned he was part of the "Lamppost Lizards", a Georgetown quartette that gave concerts throughout the state.
In August of 1925, Buell gave a concert at the University of Kentucky gymnasium that consisted of Negro folk songs and Kentucky mountain melodies. He was accompanied by Mrs. Eugene Bradley on piano and Miss Amy Dawes on violin. They wrote, "his excellent interpretation of the southern dialect has won him much admiration." An article the day after the concert provided some insight to his performance. He was then associated with the Ashland Conservatory of Music. It was said he chose to represent the comic rather than the tragic side of mountain life in his songs that evening. He said the Negroes were like "soul singers" because they were able to express both joy and sorrow through the medium of song. He gave some background on each of the tunes he said. About 300 people attended the performance.
Another article wrote of the tunes he did that night. "Sporting Bachelors," "Come All You Young and Handsome Girls," and "The Sweeping Song." Mr. Kazee told the audience that such tunes were danced to a fiddle at events such as an apple cutting, a log rolling or even a wedding. Some of the Negro spirituals he sang were "Don't You Weep When I Am Gone," "Nobody Knows De Trouble I've Seen," "Steal Away" and a ballad called "Uncle Rome". Mr. Kazee indicated that "Steal Away" was born from the fact that Negroes would 'steal away' from their plantations at night to attend their religious services. Word would be passed along the line of cotton pickers during the day.
As part of the conservatory, he would do recitals that got write ups in the newspaper. One such recital quoted Buell as stating that his program as "Cumberland Echoes of the Boy With the Banjo."
While still in Ashland, a man who ran a music store recommended Kazee to Brunswick Records. He accepted the opportunity to help pay off his college debts. Beginning in April 1927, he did the first session in New York, receiving forty dollars per song. Later he was paid seventy-five dollars per song. His most notable numbers of over fifty songs included "John Hardy," "The Little Mohee," "The Wagoner's Lad," and "The Lady Gay."
He also did a pair of rural dramas: "Election Day in Kentucky" and "A Mountain Boy Makes His First Record."
Kazee engaged in some small businesses during his recording days but with the economy declining and his recording career ending after 1929, he took the pastorate of a Baptist church in Morehead, Kentucky, where he remained for twenty-two years. Following that sojourn he taught at Lexington Baptist Bible College for seven years. For another twelve years he ministered at Devondale Baptist Church in Lexington, retiring in 1969.
In 1951, he wrote a book called "Faith is The Victory". The book has been reprinted several times since then. Another book was "The Church and the Ordinances" which appears to have been first issued in 1965.
The Commonwealth of Kentucky was the featured state selected by the Smithsonian Institution during the 7th annual Festival of American Folklife July 4 - 8, 1973 in Washington, DC. In all, Kentucky would send 150 people. Among the contingent was Buell Kazee. Bill Collins of the Lexington Leader wrote an article about the festival and featured Buell. He wrote that Buell was a "...nationally known balladeer who sings what he called 'the genuine, traditional folk music' and would accompany himself as he had for 45 years or more on his "Stradivarius of banjos" - a Gibson with a hinged back to amplify the sound as needed."
Mr. Collins noted that Buell's ability to sing and play centuries old tunes gained him recognition because of his styling. Many of the tunes he neoted had their roots in England. Buell stated, "My mother used language you will find in Shakespeare."
Another newspaper article wrote of how Buell taught himself to play the banjo at the early age of five. Buell was quoted, "We were all visiting across the hill at Aunt Sade's and there I spied an old, worn, homemade banjo. I cried for it and got it. After weeks of thrashing the strings and driving everybody made, I could play."
A newspaper article indicated that Buell had married Lucille Jones on June 5, 1929. At the time, he was the manager of the Golden Music Store in Harlan, KY.
Records show that he married the former Jennie E. Turnnyre on October 27, 1950 in Cumberland, NC.
Both of his two sons were also pastors, Rev. Allan J. Kazee and Rev. Philip Ray Kazee.
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