Blog Post

Annabel Morris Buchanan

Women’s History Month

Annabel Morris Buchanan was born October 22, 1888 in Groesbeck, Texas. She was a talented musician and folklorist. Growing up, she was granted a scholarship to the Landon Conservatory in Dallas due to her talent and graduated with honors in 1906. In 1912, she married John Preston Buchanan and settled in Marion, VA in the 1920s. Buchanan served in her local church as an organist and choir director and also composed songs. She became an active member of the Virginia Federation of Music Clubs and also served as their president for three years. In 1927, after meeting John Powell, her life was changed. Powell was a composer and pianist from Richmond who incorporated themes of folk music in his work. Powell inspired Buchanan to study and collect folk music then incorporated it into her own music. Within the community, Buchanan was seen as a “music catcher”, recording songs and music from locals. In 1931, Buchanan co-funded and directed the White Top Folk Festival. The festival was held each year, except 1937, atop a mountain in Grayson County and gained nationwide attention. In 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt was a guest at the festival. Along with her work with the festival, she published several articles on the White Top festival and other aspects of folk music. She collected more than 800 traditional songs from the region , as well as produced her own body of work called “ The Legend of Hungry Mother”. In this work, she published more than 100 original songs and 250 folk hymns. Later in life, she became a professor at James Madison University and retired from teaching in 1948 and devoted more of her time to her manuscripts and compositions. Buchanan worked with the National Federation of Music Clubs on their folk music archive for several years. In 1963, she took a six month world tour and returned to Paducah where she passed on January 6, 1983. 

Annabel Morris Buchanan contributed to the region’s access to folk music and its preservation. Her passion helped create a nationally recognized music festival. She was an important figure to Smyth County, helping preserve our history through music.