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A multimedia project that uses music to tell the stories of those whose lives were changed, for better or for worse, by turning on the lights.

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All images from the Lousian E. Mamer Rural Electrifcation Administration Papers, National Museum of American History

The music

The music that will be presented on The Kilowatt Hour comprises new interpretations of songs contemporary to the major years of the TVA and REA (examples presented below) and original material based on research primarily from the Lomax Archive’s Radio Research Project TVA Trip and the Southern Oral History Project’s Rural Electrification Collection. This original material will present perspectives of a wide variety of stakeholders, addressing the impacts of electrification on women’s roles in the home, environmental and economic impacts, and the ways that electricity and light in particular affected the social and family landscape of rural Appalachia.

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Origin Story

The inspiration for this project came from a music retreat hosted by Laura Cortese several years ago. A songwriting exercise that involved pulling random phrases from a text gifted me with the evocative “Leave me in the dark.” Another exercise from Mark Simos later prompted me to explore the many different contexts in which this phrase could exist. I had recently learned that my maternal grandfather, who passed away long before I was born, had worked for the TVA in the late thirties, so electricity and rural electrification were on my mind. I began to imagine a character who wished that the REA would “Leave them in the dark” because of a vision of the social and environmental changes that electricity would bring. I soon realized that there were many other perspectives to present, dove into research, and this project was born. It gained its name several years later when I was reading through the Louisan E. Mamer Papers at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The phrase “Kilowatt hour” popped up frequently, especially in reports of electrical usage from local REA cooperatives. I began to envision this project more as an old time radio program, i.e. “The Kilowatt Hour.”