Portraits from our Past
Southwest Virginia Music

Harry Gay and Steve Tatar

Music: 1920's - 1930's


Harry Gay and Steve Tatar, both guitarists, lived in Scott County, Virginia, in the 1920's and performed as a duo at functions on both sides of the Virginia-Tennessee line. In 1928, they recorded "Brownie Blues" in Bristol, Tennessee on the Victor label with Gay on guitar and Tatar on vocals and lead guitar. The duo were two of the few African-American musicians from Southwest Virginia to record during the early days of the "race" record industry. Music recorded by African-Americans was referred as "race" records while music recorded by acts like the Carter Family was referred to as "hillbilly" records. The song "Brownie Blues" demonstrates the inclusion of ragtime instrumental techniques in the blues tradition. The song lyrics are a interesting commentary on society's attitudes toward skin color. The record sold well locally, but it failed to bring the duo widespread fame or wealth. Lesley Riddle, an acquaintance of Gay and Tatar, points to this as one reason he did not pursue a recording contract for himself during this time.

(Photo of Steve Tatar unavailable.)


The Southwest Virginia Museum is a member of the American
Association of Museums, the American Association of State and Local History, and the Virginia Association of Museums.