“Sepia Tones” podcast miniseries honored with national award


Great Smoky Mountains Association received national recognition at the 2023 Public Lands Alliance Partnership Awards for its podcast miniseries Sepia Tones: Exploring Black Appalachian Music, which won the award for Outstanding Public Engagement. PLA publicly announced and honored the winners of its annual Partnership Awards at a virtual ceremony on Thursday, April 27.

Funded by the African American Experiences in the Smokies Project in collaboration with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Sepia Tones: Exploring Black Appalachian Music is a podcast miniseries that shines a light on the contributions of Black musicians to the songs of Southern Appalachia. Hosted by Dr. William Turner and Dr. Ted Olson, Sepia Tones features interviews with musical guests and scholars to highlight this significant influence, which is not widely known to the general public.

“One of the things I noticed quickly, conspicuously, when we started down a path of trying to learn about Black history and culture in the mountains of the South is the absence of a body of literature that deals specifically with the music of Blacks in the South,” said Dr. Turner, who is an acclaimed African American studies scholar and retired distinguished professor of Appalachian Studies and regional ambassador from Berea College. “I was inspired to get interested in this type of music, and in this podcast in particular, because we are filling a void.” Turner’s co-host, Olson, is a music historian and professor of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University.

The PLA Partnership Awards program is designed to celebrate the best in public lands partnerships, recognizing individuals, organizations, publications, products, programs, and services that embody leading-edge achievements in the preservation of public lands and the enrichment of visitors. Through its awards, the program recognizes excellence in public lands partnerships, innovative solutions to challenges, and outstanding programs that enhance visitor experience. The Outstanding Public Engagement Award, in particular, celebrates exemplary products, displays, programs and/or services that advance meaningful and sustainable connections between individuals and America’s public lands.

Sepia Tones has received several significant recognitions since its debut in March 2021. In addition to this year’s PLA Partnership Award, the miniseries won two regional awards in 2022: an e-Appalachia Award from the Appalachian Studies Association and an Award of Distinction from the East Tennessee Historical Society.

“I’m incredibly honored to be a part of this podcast miniseries,” said Valerie Polk, Sepia Tones editor and GSMA videographer and publications associate. “The recognition we have received for Sepia Tones highlights the importance of exploring this history. I’m thankful for Dr. Turner and Dr. Olson’s masterful leadership through these enlightening conversations and for our knowledgeable guests for joining us on this journey into the roots of Appalachian music.”

 Sepia Tones is distributed through GSMA’s podcast, Smoky Mountain Air, and is available through Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher and most other major streaming services.

For additional details on the 2023 Public Lands Alliance Partnership Awards, visit publiclandsalliance.org. A short video showing the introduction to the awards program, GSMA’s award announcement and acceptance speech can be found here.


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