July 27th, 2012

Memories of Ola Belle Reed

ola belleCecil County is a place filled with history, and Ola Belle Reed could easily be considered one of its most accomplished residents.

Ola Belle Reed was born Ola Wave Campbell in Ashe County, North Carolina August 17, 1916.  She was one of thirteen children and much of her family was known for their bluegrass and folk musical styles, better known then as “hillbilly music.” Surrounded by music, Ola Belle developed talent for singing and banjo picking at a young age.

The Great Depression forced many Appalachian residents, including the Campbell family, to head North in search of a better life. The Campbell family settled in Southern Pennsylvania near the Mason-Dixon Line. In the mid-thirties, Ola Belle joined the local folk group, The North Carolina Ridge Runners, which became quite popular in the tri-state area.  Ola’s brother Alex joined the group after coming home from serving in World War II. Together, they created their own band, The New River Boys and Girls. Their band would become known for opening the New River Ranch in Rising Sun, Maryland.  The New River Boys and Girls built the popular music park that featured some of the biggest country and bluegrass stars of the fifties.  Performers such as Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Bill Monroe, The Carter Family, Hank Williams, and Johnny Cash brought thousands of country fans to Cecil County. After The New River Ranch was wiped out by a blizzard in 1958, the group created an equally famous music park called Sunset Park in West Grove, Pennsylvania. Many Cecil County residents remember going to shows at Sunset Park well into the eighties.

ola belle reed cdThe Campbell family also created a chain of general stores in the Rising Sun and Oxford areas in the fifties and sixties. One of these stores, known as Campbell’s Corner, was not your typical grocery store. In addition to produce, they sold musical instruments and records. Most unique was the recording space in the back of the store where musicians would record tracks that would be featured on their family operated radio show. Customers could shop for groceries while witnessing recording sessions for some of the most popular country artists of the time.

Ola Belle Reed’s musical talents earned her an honorary doctorate from the University of Maryland in 1978. Her music has also been recognized by the Smithsonian Institute, the National Endowment for the Arts, and The Library of Congress.

Two of Ola Belle’s most popular songs, “High on the Mountain” and “I’ve Endured,” have been covered by many popular bluegrass artists for decades. “I’ve Endured” is inspired by the Campbell family’s difficult move to Cecil County, where Ola Belle became a housekeeper.

ola-belle-reed-rising-sun-melodiesPlease join us as we celebrate Ola Belle Reed’s unique life and remarkable career with a free concert on August 4, 2012 at the Elkton Central Library. Our program will feature music from her son, Dave Reed, as well as other local musicians. This concert is a part of our ongoing Journey Stories programming series. Click here to sign up, or call 410-996-5600 ext. 481.

And please share with us your memories of Ola Belle Reed, the New River Ranch, Sunset Park, and the Appalachian migration to Cecil County.


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