LEONARD EMANUEL (deciding which tune to holler): I don’t know which one’ll be next. I believe this one, “When My Blue Moon Turn to Gold.” (Without words, in a falsetto voice he “hollers” the melody of this 1940 song by Wiley Walker and Gene Sullivan, over shots of his farm, then sings):
When my blue moon turns to gold again,
And the rainbows chase the clouds away.
When my blue moon turns to gold again,
I’ll be there within your arms again.
(Continues to holler the song, the landscape scenes closing with a focus on a roadside sign that reads:
Spivey’s Corner, N.C.
“Hollerin capital of the world.”
The image fades into a close-up of Leonard Emanuel, who is vocalizing in another song-like pattern with the syllables):
Oh- ba-o, Oh-ba-o, O. . . .
LEONARD EMANUEL: Well, that’s a “good-morning” holler. My name’s Leonard Emanuel. I was born right here (turns), right over there, not far from that tree, in a log cabin. I lived here all my life. I’m seventy-three years old. I was born nineteen hundred and four. August the 26. Back then in them days, everybody hollered, just about the whole neighborhood. They’d get up of a morning, get out, feed up, one’d holler, other answer him back. One answer him over yonder. Left the field of work, coming home from work of an evening, they’d holler back and forth to each other. If they needed some help, they’d holler for help. And if they wanted to borrow something, they’d holler back across over yonder and ask so-and-so, “Can I get your plow tomorrow? Can I borrow so and so from you tomorrow?” They’d answer him back. Back then you could hear it a long way. Sometimes I’ve heard ‘em holler as far as four miles away.
(Quick cut to the stage at the Hollerin’ Contest, where O. B. JACKSON, grasping the microphone stand, is loudly hollering the tune of “Mama’s Little Baby Loves Shortening Bread.” The crowd cheers.)
LEONARD EMANUEL: Well, this here’s a distress holler. Now when anyone needs some help, something went wrong and he needed help, he’d get out and do something like this (gives two short hollers that end with a falling tone). Everbody’d come, see what was wrong. And if you going to meet somebody somewhere and you got there first, down beside the river, maybe sometime you going down the rivers on a raft of timbers, they get down to the river. The first one got there’d holler, something like this (gives a different short holler in a rising pattern): A-hoo, a-hoo, a-hoo. The other’d answer him back (lifts his hand to his mouth to holler).
(Quick cut to DEWEY JACKSON at the microphone on the Hollerin’ Contest stage, making different yodel-like effects).
LEONARD EMANUEL: Some mornings about two or three o’clock you could hear ‘em coming to the field to tie that forage while the dew was on it. You’d hear one holler over yonder, come and holler something like (cupping his hands over his mouth he hollers a few phrases of a melody). Other man holler back to him (cupping his hands differently he hollers two short phrases), let him know you’re coming. So that’s what hollerin’ is all about. It’s been handed down from generation to generation.
(Quick cut to SAM BARBER hollering with a trophy cradled in his arm): I’m Sam Barber from Benson, Route 3, Johnston County, North Carolina. And this is my third year I’ve been down here at Spivey’s Corner, and I’ve been three times second runner up, in the National Hollerin’ Contest. And I don’t think I’ll come back any more. (Hollers in a rapid yodel, mostly on two notes until the yodel at last resolves on a third tone) Ah, well my Dad hollered before me, you know. A way back then the most of the men hollered, you know, out on a farm. I’ve been on a farm all my life. Farmed all my life. And they’d all holler, you know. That’s the way they had a connection, you know, about over the neighborhood. There won’t no radio or television back then or nothing else. The only way you heard from anybody close by, we’d all be hollering, you know, along.
PAUL E. PARKER IN HIS BARNYARD: Sometime I’d need help, about getting the stock, maybe that got out or something, and I’d just need a little bit of help. I’d commence (hollers a varied series of short bursts, most ending with a falling pitch). Well, pretty quick I’d get help.
SAM BARBER: Well, he brings that old tradition back, you know, where it has always been a custom in this part of the country. Always.
(Quick cut to PAUL E. PARKER hollering into the microphone on the festival stage, to the cheers of the surrounding audience.)
TEENAGE GIRL (Parker’s granddaughter): Well, I’ve grown up around hollerin’ because my grandfather was a champion, and I’ve grown up to just start hollerin’. And then one day I decided that I would yell, and so I hollered. And one of my hollers was a distress holler, which went like this (demonstrates). And then there’s a water call, which is, like when I’m out in the field and I want some water, I’ll yell to the house, and it goes like this (demonstrates). And then if I want some dogs to come to me, there’s a holler which goes like this (demonstrates). I’ve got this song that I holler too. It is entitled “Somebody Loves Me,” and it goes like this (demonstrates, hollering a fast wordless tune with a hiccup-like staccato effect, over images of her face and of her grandfather coming out of his barn, and then of the two of them together).
PAUL E. PARKER: They wanted me to go back then--uh, Mike Douglas--to Philadelphia, and (gesturing toward the teenage girl, his granddaughter) she went with me. And I wanted, sort of wanted to show ‘em some of my grandchildren, and told him she had win Junior Hollerin’ at our place. So when they got done with that, said, “I want to see them grandchildren. Two of them come in, this’n and another’n, and—about thirteen year old. And so they just, well they just almost went wild, it sounded like, all the slaps they got, you know, about being grandchildren, and she hollered a little bit there and got a second share in jobs.
(Quick cut to the festival stage and DEWEY JACKSON hollering the melody of “When the Saints Come Marching In,” the audience cheering, and then another man hollering, and singing the lines “Cows in the corn and pigs in the pasture/ Shirt tails out and we’ll get a little faster” and a cut to him seated in a chair on his porch, where he identifies himself):
DEWEY JACKSON: My name is Dewey Jackson, and I’m on Roseboro, Route 2--in North Carolina, now. And I’ve been living here fifty-three year. Been married fifty-three, right about fifty-three. And I’m going in eighty year old. And I’ve been a-hollerin ‘bout all my life. I told some of ‘em that when I was a baby that Mama spanked me, and I started to hollerin’ then.
(Quick cut to DEWEY JACKSON on the festival stage, hollering more of the same song and the words “Went for the market, drove a little pair/ [?] ‘f you’re ever there.”]). I was the first champion. That was in ’69, and I told some of them I just knew my brother’d beat me. But he hollered. I told some of ‘em the reason he didn’t get it. I hollered “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and he hollered “Old Gray Goose,” and there was two preachers judges. And they must not have liked that Old Gray Goose. (Shot of DEWEY JACKSON hollering a musical phrase from J. B. Wright’s gospel song “Precious Memories.”) O. B. and myself went, and I said, “Well, this is a dead dog. There ain’t a-going to be nothing to this. I thought everbody knowed hollerin. My God, it started, and it built up, and it’s bigger, ever larger, ever’ year.
(Quick cut to the festival stage where a woman—possibly retiring ladies’ calling champion Iris Turner—hollers an ascending phrase, trilling with her tongue and holding her top note as long as she can; followed by Frances Barefoot, who calls “Peanut” in four long shrill phrases, each drawing whimpers of protest from Peanut, the small dog in her arms; followed by a young boy who produces one long note; followed by a girl who gives a dinner call; followed by a traditional holler from a man with a trophy in his hand—probably men’s champion DeWitt Howell—followed by Henry B. Parsons singing part of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Waiting for a Train” at the top of his voice, closing with a Jimmie Rodgers yodel):
. . . Nobody seems to want me or give me a helping hand.
I'm on my way from Frisco, I’m going back to Dixie land.
My pocket book is empty, and my heart is full of pain.
I'm a thousand miles away from home, just waiting for a train.
(A young boy follows with sustained high-pitched notes followed by yelping sounds, resembling the siren of a fire truck. Quick cut to the boy holding a trophy.)
ROBBIE GOODMAN: Hi, my name is Robbie Goodman. I just won the Junior--the National Hollering Contest, Spivey’s Corner, North Carolina the Junior Contestant. And how I got started, the Rescue Squad and the Fire Department go by some times and I just picked it up, and I’m proud to be a winner.
(Quick cut to Leonard Emanuel, sitting in a chair outdoors at his home.)
LEONARD EMANUEL: The way I begin to holler this little holler that I holler—some calls it a ditty, some calls it (rising) different things, but I always call it a yell—it’s some boys stayed across the river, and they come down, the boat in the river, and both of them a-hollering and a-yelling. And I got to answering ‘em back, and I kept putting a little more to it and a little more to it, and I made it up myself. And I don’t think anybody ever hollered it or ever will holler it just exactly like I holler it. It’s something like this.
Film and Edited by Kier M. Cline