Past Times

Hollerin’ crossed time and space in Spivey’s Corner

Scenes from the National Hollerin' Contest

Watch a 2009 video from VisitNC showing scenes from the National Hollerin' Contest in Spivey's Corner, NC.
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Watch a 2009 video from VisitNC showing scenes from the National Hollerin' Contest in Spivey's Corner, NC.

June has come and gone, but all was quiet in Spivey’s Corner where the National Hollerin’ Contest that had been held for the past 48 years was discontinued. The news report of that first ever hollerin’ contest informed readers with the headline “Man Whoops to Victory.”

A 70-year-old dairy farmer with whooping crane voice took first place in the first annual National Hollerin’ Contest here Saturday.

Dewey Jackson of Roseboro was presented a cup and gold megaphone which he tested immediately by hollerin’ through it.

Second in the bizarre, but hilarious contest was taken by Henry Parson, 73, of Newton Grove. He tends livestock for the Warren Farm Center in Dunn.

Tied for third place was O. B. Jackson of Roseboro, the brother of the to winner; Floyd Lee of Newton Grove and N. O. Barefoot of Dunn.

The hollerin’ contest was got-up by residents of the community to commemorate those early and leisurely days when neighbors hollered greetings to one another in the fields. The N&O June 29, 1969

And feature by N&O writer Charles Craven gave th e colorful event a little color commentary

A horse gave a prolonged neigh in the early afternoon at this Sampson County crossroads – but later he was completely outclassed by contestants in the first Annual National Hollerin’ Contest.

The hollerers, one of them from as far away as New Orleans, La., shook the sultry air with bellows, screams and screeches.

Any why this hollering?

Sam F. Hudson, one of the contest judges, explained.

“In the days before the explosive sounds of modern day machinery, there was serenity over the countryside. And one of the pleasant sounds was the voice of man. He sang loudly as he followed his plow, or moved about his broad fields, or walked the foot paths that were so common in that day.

“He frequently hollered, and for the same reason that birds sing. His holler expressed his mood. It was also a means of fellowship with his neighbor who might be as much as a mile away. When a neighbor heard his neighbor he instinctively answered him.:

So with an enthusiastic audience of some 6,500 and with national television camera crews on hand, the hollerin’ contestants Saturday revived the old custom on the football field of Midway High School. The platform was on old red wagon.

One lady demonstrated how she called for her husband. With a voice that ranged from bass to tenor, she hollered: “JESSEEEE!”

Out in the crowd, Jesse answered: “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

One worthy gave what he termed the “Moonshiner’s Moan.” It went like this: ‘REVENOOOOERS!”

State Agriculture Commissioner Jim Graham, one of the contest judges, was called upon by the crowd to give an exhibition holler. Jim chose to bray like a donkey. It was so real that the crowd would have been brought to its feet if it hadn’t already been standing. There was thundering applause.

“If he was a contestant he would win first place,” said an onlooker.…

The event has caught on. It was old fashioned, full-blown fun. Spivey’s Corner is liable to have the first “Hollerin’ Stadium” in the country. The N&O June 30, 1969

In 2003, N&O writer Kathleen Kearns brought readers up to date on the old-time art and a local connection.

Back in the 1970s, H.H. Oliver, an early champion, explained on tape how the hollering tradition was used by farm families. “When you had trouble, you had to get out and holler. I remember one time that there was a child that fell out of the porch and cut its head open and the lady got out and hollered.” Oliver demonstrated by hollering three times, a loud, primal two-note call that would chill any red-blooded creature to the bone.

He went on, “And my mama said, ‘Well, we’d better go down and see what’s the matter at Susan’s.’ So we tore out down there and the little fellow that fell out of the porch and cut his head open, my mother took some cobwebs and wiped on his face, and after a while he stopped bleeding. That’s what they call a distress holler.”

Before telephones, calling across the fields was the quickest way for country people to communicate with their neighbors. Chapel Hill’s own Tony Peacock, who was national champion in 1999, is part of a generation interested in learning about different hollers and preserving them as a tradition.

“They’re divided into four categories,” Peacock explained in a surprisingly soft voice. “Communicative hollers like ‘good morning’ or ‘hello’; distress hollers; functional farm, field and work hollers, which include calling animals, calling for water, and calling for dinner; and expressive hollers, which use old folk and hymn tunes.”

What you’re aiming for, according to Peacock, is an echo that will carry the message across fields and woods.

“A trademark Sampson County holler consisted of rapid shifts between falsetto and natural voice on a limited, gapped scale, “ he said. “For instance, 1-3-5. That gives you the echo. You want staccato, sharp sounds.”

The farmers who hollered for practical purposes would never have explained it that way, Peacock acknowledged. They just hollered. The N&O June 1, 2003

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

A 1978 film “Welcome to Spiveys Corner: The National Hollering Contest” shows archival footage and interviews. The 17-minute film can be viewd at folkstreams.net/film,238
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