One of the first uses of the term High Lonesome as a musical description appears in a 1963 documentary by musician Joe Cohen about Appalachian musicians. The term refers not only to the characteristic vocal sound but the feeling of hardship expressed by the singers, most of whom were living in conditions of extreme poverty. It is also used to describe the voice of Bill Monroe, considered the “father of Bluegrass Music,” who appears in the film. Old Time and Bluegrass music are most often associated with Southern people of European heritage, but the music was equally influenced by African American people, many of whom migrated to Appalachia to work on the railroads. Bill Monroe often cited the influence of blues fiddler and son of a former slave, Arnold Shultz; and A.P. Carter travelled around the country with African American folk singer Lesley Riddle to gather folk songs to include in the Carter Family’s repertoire.
My High Lonesome begins with an evocation of the sound of Bill Monroe’s voice, and then shifts in to a style more reminiscent of African-American blues, call and response church music, and work songs.