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Buell Kazee
Born:  August 29, 1900
Died:  August 31, 1976

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."

Buell Kazee - The Little Mohee - Brunswick - 1927

Buell Kazee - Lady Gay - Brunswick - 1928

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.

Stone Road Baptist Church - Rev. Buell Kazee Pastor
Devondale Baptist Church - Rev. Buell Kazee Pastor

Book - Buell Kazee - Faith Is The Victory
Book - Buell Kazee - The Church and the Ordinances

Back in 1958, Buell had made some informal tapes that were released on a Folkways long play album. After retirement he played, sang and picked his banjo at numerous folk festivals and colleges some as far from his Winchester, Kentucky home as Los Angeles and Seattle. He also made some more recordings that in 1978 were assembled and released on the June Appal label.

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.

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com would like to express its thanks to Ivan M. Tribe, author of Mountaineer Jamboree — Country Music in West Virginia and other books that can be found on Amazon.com and numerous articles in other publications for providing us with information about this artist.
  • Glee Club To Broadcast; April 8, 1925; The Lexington Herald; Lexington, KY
  • High Honor; APril 13, 1925; Kentucky Advocate; Danville, KY
  • Pastor Urges Near East Aid; Georgetown Rotarians Hear Talk on Golden Rule from D. Benjamin Jay Bush; Committee Named; Buell H. Kazee Sings; November 15, 1925; The Lexington Herald; Lexington, KY
  • The Regular Meeting Of The Rotary Club; November 15, 1925; The Courier-Journal; Louisville, KY
  • Buell H. Kazee Will Appear At University Thursday; To Give Concert; AUgust 11, 1925; The Lexington Herald; Lexington, KY
  • Buell H. Kazee Heard in Mountain Songs; August 13, 1926; Lexington Leader; Lexington, KY
  • Buell H. Kazee Delights Audience With Appreciative Interpretation of Negro Spirituals, Mountain SOngs; August 13, 1926; The Lexington Herald; Lexington, KY
  • Georgetown - Wednesday Musicale; November 21, 1926; Lexington Leader; Lexington, KY
  • Marriage: Jones-Kazee; June 23, 1929; Lexington Leader; Lexington, KY
  • Folk LIfe Festival Entertainers Preserve Kentucky's Hill Music; Bill Collins; April 20, 1973; The Lexington Leader; Lexington, KY
  • Their Mission: Make Kentucky Music Ring; June 18, 1973; The Messenger; Madisonville, KY
  • Rev. Buell Kazee, 76, Dies In Clark; September 1, 1979; Lexington Herald; Lexington, KY

Get The Music

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

Rec. No. Side Song Title
  144 A Roll On John
  144 B John Hardy
  145 A Rock Island
  145 B Old Whisker Bill
  154 A Darling Cora
  154 B East Virginia
  155 A The Ship That's Sailing High On The Water
  155 B If You Love Your Mother
  156 A The Roving Cowboy
  156 B The Little Mohee
  157 A The Old Maid
  157 B Sporting Bachelors
  206 A Faded Coat Of Blue
  206 B Don't Forget Me, Little Darling
  210 A Snow Deer (w/Sookie Hobbs)
  210 B Red Wing (w/Sookie Hobbs)
  211 A The Orphan Girl
  211 B Poor Little Orphan Boy
  212 A The Cowboy's Farewell
  212 B Lady Gay
  213 A The Wagoner's Lads
  213 B The Butcher Boy
  214 A The Dying Soldier
  214 B Short Life Of Trouble
  215 A Little Bessie
  215 B My Mother
  216 A In The Shadow Of The Pines
  216 B You Taught Me How To Love
  217 A Poor Boy Long Way From Home
  217 B You Are False But I'll Forgive You
  218 A Married Girl's Troubles
  218 B Gambling Blues
  330 A Steel A-Goin' Down
  330 B The Hobo's Last Ride
  338 A Mountain Boys First Record Pt.2
  338 B Mountain Boy Makes His First Record
  351 A Toll The Bells
  351 B The Blind Man
  436 A Roving Cowboy
  436 B Little Mohee
  437 A The Waggoner's Lad
  437 B The Butcher's Boy
  481 A Cowboy Trail
  481 B I'm Rolling Along
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  05221 A In The Shadow Of The Pines
  05221 B You Taught Me How To Love You Now Teach Me To Forg
  05231 B My Mother
  05231 B Little Bessie

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