Talk:Elizabeth Cotten

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Ms Cotten's Tunings and Being "Self Taught"[edit]

Elizabeth Cotten said she taught herself banjo and guitar, but it is clear she didn't do that in a vacuum. Her brother, her immediate community, including her church, and popular music of the time, such as brass bands and early records would would have influenced her music. In those days music was spread by itinerant musicians who Elizabeth likely heard.

For example, she is on record, literally, saying the banjo was her first instrument. (Track 5, about 14 seconds in, Elizabeth Cotten Live, Arhoolie 447) She "borrowed" her brother's banjo, which certainly was tuned in some commonly used tuning. On the same album, (track 9, about 3:20 in) she talks about a tune being played by a man walking down the street and reworking it into "Honey Babe, Your Papa Cares for You.) In the liner notes, for her first album, I believe, she talks about being inspired to write "Graduation March" after hearing a brass band at a University of North Carolina commencement. Her ragtime pieces, like Wilson Rag, cut 1 of her first album, clearly show the influence of the popular ragtime music of her childhood.

Most of her tunes are in "standard" EADGBE tuning which she certainly learned from others. The two open tunings she uses on her four recordings are the common open tunings used by other Southern guitar players in the early 20th century, open D and open G. These are sometimes called open E and A if the instrument is tuned to concert pitch rather than a step flat, a common practice which was kinder to the instruments and easier to play because of less tension on the strings. Ms. Cotten had her own names for these tunings, Vastopol for open D and Spanish for open G, but they were the two most common open tunings, none the less.

John Ullman (talk) 21:55, 12 May 2008 (UTC)

Picking style[edit]

Cotten's picking style exemplifies the movement of black musicians from banjo to guitar. It is very similar to frailing. It sounds like how those musicians very well may have strummed/picked their instruments.

Possible redirect[edit]

It is my opinion that there ought to be a rediretct here to the article "Elizabeth Cotten" from her nickname, of "Libba" Cotten

--done. --Batula 21:22, 5 September 2006 (UTC)

--I agree. These two pages need to be merged (not that I know how that is done)

???[edit]

I don't understand what's meant by Mrs. Cotten having "no knowledge of tuning in the traditional sense". --RobHutten 03:25, 21 May 2006 (UTC)

re: ??? I think it's referring to the standard tunings of a guitar, eg. EADGBe or standard, commonly used "open tunings." Most often than not, autodidactic folk musicians, when picking up a stringed instrument will tune the strings by ear to notes that sound nice to them, not to some set, established, traditional tuning. --Batula 21:20, 5 September 2006 (UTC)

Merge[edit]

There's an article with the spelling of her last name "Cotton" where it should correctly read as in this article "Cotten" I have suggested they be merged so the proper spelling is maintained. --Batula 21:22, 5 September 2006 (UTC)

  • Go ahead. It's obviously the same person. Bruxism 04:20, 22 September 2006 (UTC)

I knew Elizabeth Cotten from 1968 until her death, and was her manager and agent from 1975 on. Her name was often mispelled "Cotton", sometimes even by me, if I didn't catch myself. Merging these two articles is the correct thing to do.

Regarding Ms. Cotten's use of open tunings, non-standard tunings were a standard practice for guitar and fiddle players, and the banjo has a large number of tunings. Some of these stem from the model scales which preceeded the standard 12 tone scale in Western music. The use of modal scales is found world wide. The most commond tunings were an open G (or A) chord and an open D (or E) chord. These two open tunings were widely used by blues players and songsters throughout the South. In her concert appearances, Ms. Cotten usually played Vastapol in an open D tuning and Spanish Flangdang in open G.

John Ullman JohnU@tradarts.com

Uncited[edit]

"This album is considered one of the most influential folk albums ever recorded." If this is a quote it needs to be cited, if not it should probably be removed for not being NPOV—The preceding Dannygutters 15:17, 24 April 2007 (UTC)

Citation 2[edit]

"Her influence is felt by many guitarists today."

This may be true, but should be expanded to support or cited if a quote. As a single statement it's not NPOV Dannygutters 15:22, 24 April 2007 (UTC)

Birthplace[edit]

The article says she was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the infobox says she was born in Carrboro, North Carolina. The towns are right next to each other, but she had to be born in one or the other. From what I've heard, she lived on Lloyd Street in Carrboro, but it's still possible she could have been born in Chapel Hill.--Gloriamarie (talk) 00:21, 4 July 2008 (UTC)


I've never seen any primary documents stating she was born or ever lived in Carrboro...it's always been Chapel Hill. There was a Lloyd Street in Chapel Hill (1/2 block from her family house), and all the census records state she and her family lived in Chapel Hill. Evets70 — Preceding undated comment added 17:15, 19 March 2014 (UTC)

Birthdate[edit]

Elizebeth Cotten's birthdate is listed here and in other sources as January 5, 1895. However, she celebrated her 90th birthday on January 5, 1983. I went to her 90th birthday party at Folk City in NYC on Friday January 7th 1983 and it's documented in this NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/1983/01/07/arts/elizabeth-cotten-at-90-bigger-than-the-tradition.html

This is off by 2 years. So it's possible that the year of her actual birth is 1893. Alternatively, perhaps back in January 1983 she thought it was her 90th birthday but it was actually her 88th.

If you go to this article: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php?id=5940 you'll see that they too list her as Born: January 5, 1895. Yet later in the article they say: "At 90 years of age she started a National Tour in 1983 called Folk City. The tour began in New York City where she opened with Mike Seeger."

It would be good if someone who knew her very well cleared up this discrepency. Romanskj59 (talk) 01:08, 30 April 2009 (UTC)

Yes, well it would be nice to sort this one out. The key, as ever with Wikipedia is verifiability (viz. "The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth—that is, whether readers are able to check that material added to Wikipedia has already been published by a reliable source, not whether we think it is true") and sources, rather than someone who knows her well. The bizarre, stupid and unfathomable truth is that a third party, so-called reliable source, beats a hand of four aces of 'I am her sister, daugther. etc.,' every time. No argument; full stop (or period - if you must).
Derek R Bullamore (talk) 23:47, 2 June 2009 (UTC)

--- all of the early primary documents (censuses etc.) state she was born in January 1893 Evets70 — Preceding undated comment added 17:17, 19 March 2014 (UTC)

Playing Guitar in Church[edit]

It says she quit playing guitar in church but here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5MTbScgKVE&feature=autoplay&list=MLGxdCwVVULXfxywk9HFH3UayUJC7lgr4T&index=10&playnext=1 at 3:39 she said that she never played in church. Removing. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 75.136.193.181 (talk) 12:00, 25 March 2011 (UTC)

--- yeah, the minister at her church (Lewis Hackney) would have lost his mind from what I've heard! Good catch. Evets70 — Preceding undated comment added 18:23, 19 March 2014 (UTC)

Bioshock Infinite[edit]

A cover of Shake Sugaree is done in the game Bioshock Infinite. An orphan in shantytown sings the song as you walk past. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 205.178.122.203 (talk) 22:43, 13 July 2013 (UTC)


NC Highway marker[edit]

A brief note on this marker: It was placed in the wrong location, but only 1/2 mile or so away from what should be its "true" location. Carrboro's Lloyd Street was confused with Chapel Hill's [previously named] Lloyd Street, which is now named Brooks Lane, and which the Cotten family lived on/near. I'm just happy the correct birthdate is on the marker, though! Evets70 (talk) 14:55, 23 September 2015 (UTC)

External links modified[edit]

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PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE quit changing her birthdate to 1895![edit]

All primary source documents state she was born in 1893. I've had to change it back to 1893 from the incorrect year of 1895 like a half-dozen times and it's getting irritating. The Seegers had no idea when she was born, and so their statements are inaccurate and hearsay. Thankjs! Evets70 (talk) 19:58, 3 April 2016 (UTC)


ONCE AGAIN I have had to change her birth year from 1895 to 1893...PLEASE quit changing the year back to the incorrect year of 1895. Thanks! Evets70 (talk) 15:29, 5 October 2016 (UTC)

Neville, Nevills, Nevill[edit]

Her family name is given as Neville in the first paragraph of the article and as Nevills in the infobox and in the section "Early life" (in which her parents' surname is stated to be Nevill or Nevills). Is the spelling "Neville" a typo? If there is uncertainty about the spelling, I suggest that it be mentioned in the intro. I am reluctant to edit the article accordingly because of the possibility that "Neville" is erroneous and should be deleted altogether. Jwicklatz (talk) 01:52, 11 April 2016 (UTC)

Great point! In local (Orange County, NC) records, as is common, her last name is misspelled/spelled differently throughout various documents. Nevils, Neville, Nevills, Nevill, Nevil, etc. ...it typically depends on the person who is writing down the information and their ability to spell and or correctly hear the person saying their name (and any prejudices that goes along with it), and sometimes the person whose last name it is wouldn't even know the correct spelling. However, if one spelling needed to be stuck with, I would suggest "Nevill" as that's the spelling I most often see in the records. Evets70 (talk) 14:08, 12 April 2016 (UTC)

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