The Warner Collection and the history of folk

Published 9:22 pm Thursday, November 7, 2019

On Saturday, Nov. 2, guests gathered at Wanchese Community Building to take a trip down memory lane. With the help of Gerret and Jeff Warner, the crowd was able to view photographs and listen to folk music from the 1930s and 1940s. The event was sponsored by Outer Banks Conservationists, Southern Banks and Twiddy & Co.

Gerret and Jeff are the sons of Frank and Anne Warner, who were revolutionists in the folk music movement. For 30 years, the Warners traveled across America in search of folk musicians while documenting their journey with pictures and songs. According to Ladd Bayliss, executive director of Outer Banks Conservationists, “In 1940 and 1941, the Warners recorded over 15 local musicians along the Outer Banks, from Elizabeth City to Wanchese and Manns Harbor to Kitty Hawk.”

There to tell their parents’ tale, Jeff and Gerret presented a picture slideshow accompanied by music that walked the audience through the Warners’ history. This performance was the premiere of the duo’s statewide tour, “From the Mountains to the Sea.”

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Jeff began by reading an excerpt from his mother’s journal on the first day of their journey across America. “That was from our mother, Anne Warner’s, first day. The first day of their journey to a world of old songs, old ways and new friendships. To their unexpected but gladly accepted role as preservers of song and American memory. Their journey, from the mountains to the sea,” he said.

Both Frank and Anne Warner had a passion for music and culture. Frank grew up in Durham and pursued a career in YMCA leadership at Duke University. After moving to New York City, he met and married Anne in 1935. They then moved to Greenwich Village.

Frank was a folk singer and found himself amongst others of his kind; people who valued American tradition and southern roots. In the beginning of the couple’s life together, they met literary heroes such as Steven Vincent Benet, Carl Carmer, Marianne Moore, Marjorie Flack and Clifton Fadiman, who all loved Frank’s songs.

In 1937, the Warners met Maurice Matteson, chairman of the music program at the University of South Carolina. Matteson introduced the dulcimer to Frank and Anne, who then contacted the artist behind the beautiful instrument, Nathan Hicks.

This is where their journey began, on a road trip to Beech Mountain to receive the handcrafted dulcimer from Hicks. For forty years, the Warners traveled along the east coast, collecting songs and meeting new people who helped them learn and grow in the folk music industry.

They met powerhouses such as Frank Proffitt, Lee Monroe Presnell, Rebecca King Jones, Sue Thomas and Eleazar Tillett. Anne and Frank took photographs and recorded songs along the way and Anne kept her journal which Jeff and Garret cherish to this day.

As Jeff retold the stories of Anne’s journal, he sang some of his parents’ songs and the audience sang along. It was a day full of remembrance.

For more information on Jeff and Gerret’s “From the Mountains to the Sea” Tour and the history of the Warners, visit their website at



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