Smoky Mountain Air

Smoky Mountain Air

Smoky Mountain Air brings you the science, stories, and sounds of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hosts Valerie Polk and Karen Key interview authors, scientists, and park experts about life in the Smokies past and present. A production by Smokies Life.


October 19, 2022 50 mins

Dr. William Turner and Dr. Ted Olson talk to Amythyst Kiah, an acclaimed musician and songwriter whose work is redefining genre boundaries and has established her as a distinctive new voice of Appalachia. Reconnecting with Amythyst in this episode is her mentor, Jack Tottle, an accomplished musician with a long career as a singer, songwriter, author, and educator.

Amythyst Kiah has won critical acclaim as a member of the g...

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On this episode of our mini-series Sepia Tones, Dr. William Turner and Dr. Ted Olson welcome Dom Flemons, a renowned performer of American folk music and a founding member of The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Citing a variety of musical influences—including the legendary Howard Armstrong and the inimitable Elizabeth Cotten—Flemons shares his journey into becoming a tradition-bearer of old-time music and demonstrates the subtleties of r...

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On this episode of our mini-series Sepia Tones, Dr. William Turner and Dr. Ted Olson welcome a spirited conversation with special guests Dr. Kathy Bullock and Rev. Dr. Virgil Wood. Our guests discuss the African American traditions of spiritual music, gospel, and the unique revival of shape note singing in 20th-century Appalachia. In many cases, music from sacred traditions and communities also became anthems that propelled those s...

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On this episode of our mini-series Sepia Tones, Dr. William Turner and Dr. Ted Olson examine music within rural communities with guests Earl White, Larry Kirksey, and Kip Lornell. Each of our guests has been on their own quest, whether seeking the musical kinship of other black performers past and present, finding a life outside of Kentucky coal camps, or documenting the rich musical landscape of rural communities.

Earl Wh...

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On this special episode of Smoky Mountain Air, guest hosts Dr. William Turner and Dr. Ted Olson kick off an exciting new mini-series called Sepia Tones: Exploring Black Appalachian Music. Guests Loyal Jones, Sparky Rucker, and James Leva contribute to this lively conversation about the roots of Appalachian music and their own roles in preserving these musical influences.

Loyal Jones served as director of the Appalachian Center now n...

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Our guests Dr. William Turner and Dr. Ted Olson talk about an exciting new podcast mini-series they'll be co-hosting as part of Smoky Mountain Air called Sepia Tones: Exploring Black Appalachian Music. This mini-series can be found right here through this podcast, with new episodes every other month. 

Dr. William Turner is a long-time African American studies scholar who first rose to prominence as co-editor of the groundbreaki...

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On this episode, we talk to Morgan Simmons and Don Wood, the author and illustrator of Singing Creek—a new book published by GSMA that takes young readers on an adventure of music and survival in the world of a Smoky Mountain stream.

Morgan Simmons is a former outdoor editor for the Knoxville News Sentinel. Over the course of his 28-year career, he’s covered environmental issues across Tennessee and wrote a hiking column t...

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On this episode of Smoky Mountain Air, we look back at an interview we recorded a few months ago with David Brill, author of the book Into the Mist, a collection of real-life stories depicting people caught in extreme situations in the Smokies and their dramatic struggles for survival. Into the Mist is published by GSMA and available at

Brill has also written four other books: As Far as the Eye Can See: Refl...

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On this episode of Smoky Mountain Air, we look back at an interview we recorded this summer with Vesna Plakanis, owner of A Walk in the Woods, a tour guide service specializing in knowledge of edible and medicinal wild plants, backpacking, and outdoor skills and survival, as well as local human history here in the Smokies. A Walk in the Woods has helped more than 100,000 people explore the Smokies since 1998.

We spoke with...

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“Early 20th century hikers in the Great Smokies were likely to encounter a small Japanese man on the trail. He was 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed a little more than 100 pounds. He might have been burdened with a pack containing a heavy camera, tripod, and accompanying equipment. Or he might be pushing the front wheel of a bicycle connected to handlebars with an odometer attached, a cyclometer, that he used to measure trail mileag...

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Stephen Lyn Bales is the former senior naturalist at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville and the author of Ephemeral by Nature: Exploring the Exceptional with a Tennessee Naturalist, Natural Histories: Stories from the Tennessee Valley, and Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner and the Quest for the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, each published by UT Press. A native of Gatlinburg, he is the great-grandson of Jim Bales whose home site is preserved on Roar...

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What goes on in the uppermost layers of a Smoky Mountain forest? Does anything live up there? And who's going to climb up there to find out? “From charismatic microfauna to megafauna—from water bears to black bears—the forest canopy harbors so much,” says author Rose Houk.
Join us as we delve into one of the ‘missing issues’ of our biannual publication, Smokies Life, to rediscover Houk's article “Life in the Canopy.”...

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