Douglas Turner Day IV, former Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society executive director and noted Piedmont blues-style musician, died January 26 from pancreatic cancer. He was 63.
An avid social media-ist, he wrote on Facebook January 22, “Well, it’s official. Hospice later this week. I’ll be posting a fundraiser for my album.”
Day graduated from UVA, and earned a master’s and Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina and University of Pennsylvania, respectively, in folklore and folklife.
He served as historical society director for five-and-a-half years. In 2007, Day launched the Hysterical Society blog to discuss local history in a “non-academic, non-stuffy venue,” he wrote. The blog lasted 12 days before the historical society’s board made him remove it from the organization’s website, with one board member dubbing it “tasteless,” Day reported. Four months later, Day was out.
His former wife, Sally Day, describes him as “passionate” about music and many other areas, for which he had an “encyclopedic mind.” His interest in folklife started with his interest in the blues, she says, and that expanded to the arts.
Art that came from cultures that didn’t necessarily start here, “that’s what excited him,” she says. “He did his field work working within a tradition and not an institution.”
“One of the times he was happiest was when he got the National Folk Festival to come to Chattanooga,” she says, where he was director of the folklore program at Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga. “He got every community in Chattanooga to come together and everyone got an opportunity to shine.”
Ian Day, his brother and owner of Southern Crescent, recalls them playing guitar and ukulele as kids, and Doug practicing and “getting better and better.” World famous bass player Steve Riggs was their neighbor, says Ian, and he remembers the two playing on the front porch.
He also remembers his brother as a 16-year-old buying a steel guitar. “People said they wish they could play it as well as he did.”
Day spent the past year or so working on a recording project he dubbed The Great Egress. Using a number of different guitars, he recorded more than 30 favorite songs, including “country blues and rags, risqué hollers, and noble praise songs,” according to his obituary.
“That was the final act of his life,” says Sally Day. “It came down to the music.”