Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Look Back in History

Color Photographs from before World War II

None of these are specifically Appalachian, but there are a number of rural photographs which will certainly ring a bell. And along the way you learn something of the history of Kodachrome film. As the site points out, the past appears very different when seen in color rather than black and white.

To view the pictures: Click Here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The African-American Migration Experience

New societies, new peoples, and new communities usually originate in acts of migration. Someone or ones decide to move from one place to another. They choose a new destination and sever their ties with their traditional community or society as they set out in search of new opportunities, new challenges, new lives, and new life worlds. Most societies in human history have a migration narrative in their stories of origin. All communities in American society trace their origins in the United States to one or more migration experiences. America, after all, is "a nation of immigrants."

But until recently, people of African descent have not been counted as part of America's migratory tradition. The transatlantic slave trade has created an enduring image of black men and women as transported commodities, and is usually considered the most defining element in the construction of the African Diaspora, but it is centuries of additional movements that have given shape to the nation we know today. This is the story that has not been told.

In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience presents a new interpretation of African-American history, one that focuses on the self-motivated activities of peoples of African descent to remake themselves and their worlds. Of the thirteen defining migrations that formed and transformed African America, only the transatlantic slave trade and the domestic slave trades were coerced, the eleven others were voluntary movements of resourceful and creative men and women, risk-takers in an exploitative and hostile environment. Their survival skills, efficient networks, and dynamic culture enabled them to thrive and spread, and to be at the very core of the settlement and development of the Americas. Their hopeful journeys changed not only their world and the fabric of the African Diaspora but also the Western Hemisphere.

These journeys did not originate in the east with the 1619 arrival of Africans in Jamestown, Virginia, as is commonly believed, but almost a century earlier, further south. Indeed, African-American history starts in the 1500s with the first Africans coming from Mexico and the Caribbean to the Spanish territories of Florida, Texas, and other parts of the South. And as early as 1526, Africans rebelled and ran away in South Carolina.

To continue this fascinating story and visit the In Motion web site: Click Here.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bell County History and Genealogy

This past Monday's MHS Blog entry featured a free genealogy workshop to be held in Bell County, Kentucky.

Bell County was formed just after the Civil War, on February 5, 1867, from portions of Harlan and Knox Counties. Originally named Josh Bell County at its formation, the name was changed to Bell County by the legislature on January 31, 1873. The county includes the Cumberland Gap, one of the major migration routes into the state.

To visit Bell County's GenWeb site: Click Here.

To locate GenWeb sites for other counties of interest:: Click Here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lewis & Clark: The Maps of Exploration 1507 - 1814

A Production of the University of Virginia Library

While central to it, there is much more to this online exhibition than just the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

To visit: Click Here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Institute for Rual Journalism

And Community Issues

The Institute is based at the University of Kentucky but is a multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional effort, with academic partners at Appalachian State University, East Tennessee State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Georgia College and State University, Indiana University, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania, Iowa State University, Marshall University, Middle Tennessee State University, Ohio University, Penn State, Southeast Missouri State University, Virginia Tech, the University of Alaska-Anchorage, the University of Illinois, the University of Maine at Presque Isle, the University of North Carolina, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Washington and Lee University, West Virginia University, Wheeling Jesuit University and the Knight Community Journalism Fellows program of the University of Alabama.

Because 21 percent of Americans, some 63 million people, are rural. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan journalists define the public agenda for their communities, and grasp the local impact of broader issues. It interprets rural issues for metro news media, conducts seminars and publishes research and good examples of rural journalism. It helps journalists all over America learn about rural issues, trends and events in areas they’ve never seen but have much in common with their own, and it helps rural journalists learn how to exercise editorial leadership in small markets.

To visit the Institute's web site: Click Here.

To visit the Institute's blog: Click Here.

To read the Institute's commentary on “A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains”: Click Here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Free Genealogy Workshop

The Bell County Genealogical Society, Middlesboro Library, and the local Kentucky path of the Daughters of the American Revolution are sponsoring a workshop at the Middlesboro Library on Mar 14th, 2009.

Workshop Agenda:

9 am-1pm
Book Fair

Genealogical Material by Mark Treadway
Paul Johnson "Claiborne Cemetery Book"
Bell County Historical Society

10:00am-11:15Basic Genealogy Workshop

Guest Speaker: Michele Lawson, Bell County Library

12:30 pm-1:00 pm Lunch


Melungeon Speaker: MHS member Johnnie Rhea

"Life on Newman's Ridge"

Melungeon is a term traditionally applied to a group of people that lived on Newman's Ridge. Newman's Ridge stretches a great distance over east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and east Kentucky.


One on One Workshop

Members of the Bell County Genealogy group and the local DAR will be on hand to offer one on one help with your genealogy needs.

Pre-registration is required by March 12th, 2009

Call 606-242-0005

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Legend of John Henry

John Henry - The Steel Drivin' Man

Man or Myth?

The C & O Railroad built Great Bend Tunnel in the early 1870's. Over one mile of hard red shale that resists drilling but readily crumbles when exposed to air, was cleared through the Big Bend Mountain in Talcott, West Virginia. The tunneling by driving steel by hand into the hard rock was dangerous and reportedly one in five men were killed as tons of rock crushed down upon them. Was there a man among these steel drivers named John Henry? Did this John Henry race against a steam drill and die with his hammer in his hand as ballads portray? Research indicates more than likely . . . he did.

For the legend according to the local tourist bureau: Click Here.

For the legend according to National Public Radio: Click Here.

Happy Note: The NPR site includes musical recordings.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Appalachian Heritage

A Literary Quarterly of the Appalachian South

Appalachian Heritage strives to keep readers abreast of the visual and literary arts of the Southern Appalachian Region by presenting a mix of well-established writers and artists as well as fresh new voices.

Founded in 1973, Appalachian Heritage is a program of the Berea College Appalachian Center and has been published since 1985 by Berea College.

While this is a subscription journal, much of it is available online for free.

To have a look: Click Here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Book Review: When Scotland Was Jewish

By Elizabeth Caldwell Hirschman and Donald N. Panther-Yates
(McFarland & Company, 2007)

Review by Andrew M. Cowan

The stated intent of this book is to assemble historic, genealogical, linguistic, archeological, and geographic evidence, combined with the relatively new technique of Y-DNA analysis, to open a new perspective of the history of Scotland: that most of Scottish history and culture was of Jewish origin. In addition, its further purpose is to create a better understanding of the great diversity in origins of the Scottish population, dispelling the view of orthodox historians of the prevalence of the Celtic population in Scotland.

The authors of this book paint an image of themselves as two researchers on a voyage of discovery, sailing into a scholarly and historical breach onboard a hypothesis of Jewish Scotland, observing signs missed by everyone for four hundred years. They are very brave to have embarked on such a fragile and leaky vessel with their banner “Scotland was Jewish” waving like the Jolly Roger (with its telltale Jewish crossbones) high on the mast.

Readers will find some elements of this book demonstrate a commendable degree of scholarship, but even in a cursory examination the inferential evidence will be seen as very weak.

To continue reading: Click Here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Tennessee Valley Authority

"Serving the Valley Through Energy, Environment
and Economic Development"

The TVA scarcely needs an introduction.

To visit its web site: Click Here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Appalachian Regional Commission Maps

ARC produces county-level maps of the Appalachian Region to graphically display patterns in socioeconomic data. Each map includes links to supporting data.

  • Economic Status
  • Education
  • Geography
  • Income
  • Population
  • Poverty
  • Unemployment
To view the maps: Click Here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thomas Bell Genealogy

Research and Compiled by MHS Board Member Kevin Mullins

Generation No. 1

1. THOMAS1 BELL was born Abt. 1802 in NC. He married LITARZA ?. She was born Abt. 1809 in NC.

Notes for THOMAS BELL:

Lived in Claiborne Co, listed as "M" [Mulatto] on 1850 census. Children lived in Hancock Co, sometimes listed as "M" , others a "W". It's possible that this branch of Bells came from the Bells who became part of the Lumbee Indian tribe in North Carolina.

To continue reading: Click Here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Appalachian Regional Studies Center

The Appalachian Regional Studies Center at Radford University houses the Appalachian Folklife Archives, where some 1000 field collection projects and their accompanying recordings, videotapes, slides and photographs are available for use in the university program. Approximately half of these are Appalachian folklife projects, and the other half feature Appalachian literary, media, history, sociology, and anthropology projects. In addition, the ARSC houses a growing collection of audio and videotapes, CD's, DVD's, record albums and selected print materials. It serves as an information clearinghouse for the university community and the surrounding region, and as a resource center for Radford students and faculty, as well as for other scholars and educators in the Appalachian region.

To visit the ARSC web site: Click Here.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains

A production of ABC's 20/20, "A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains," a documentary piece dedicated to poverty in Appalachia in general and its effect on children in particular, was broadcast this past Friday. Whether you saw the show or not, a visit to the show's web site is recommended.

To go there: Click Here.

Note: As originally published, this link was defective but has now been corrected.

For ABC's list of organizations trying to help: Click Here.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Appalshop is a non-profit multi-disciplinary arts and education center in the heart of Appalachia producing original films, video, theater, music and spoken-word recordings, radio, photography, multimedia, and books.

Its education and training programs support communities' efforts to solve their own problems in a just and equitable way. Each year, Appalshop productions and services reach several million people nationally and internationally.

Appalshop is dedicated to the proposition that the world is immeasurably enriched when local cultures garner the resources, including new technologies, to tell their own stories and to listen to the unique stories of others.

To visit the Appalshop web site: Click Here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kentuckiana Digital Library

The Kentuckiana Digital Library is your gateway to rare and unique digitized collections housed in Kentucky archives. These digital collections are built to enhance scholarship, research and lifelong learning.

Highly recommended.

To Visit: Click Here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Before Dromgoole

A series articles written and published by Will Allen Dromgoole in 1890 and 1890 brought Melungeons to the attention of a national audience. However, written references to Melungeons, some of which have been presented here, go back to 1813.

To see a compendium of such pre-Dromgoole references: Click Here.

To review Dromgoole's 1890 and 1891 articles: Click Here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Book Review: Melungeons: The Last Lost Tribe in America

(Mercer University Press, 2005)
Elizabeth Hirschman PhD.
Rutgers University

Review by MHS board member Janet Crain
Republished from the MHS Newsletter, Winter 2009

Melungeons: The Last Lost Tribe in America was the culmination of a twenty year quest by the author to discover her true family heritage. Growing up, she had a small gray booklet, written by a relative in the 1880s and periodically updated, about the descendants of Samuel Chase of Maryland, a signer of the Constitution and a Supreme Court justice that traced the Chase family bloodline. Her name was in it. Her rejected application to join the DAR led to the shocking realization that the book was incorrect.

After she learned this was not true she set out to discover who she really was .The chance discovery of a book, Melungeons; the Resurrection of a Proud People by Brent Kennedy at the Atlanta airport in 1999 led to her subsequent belief that she was a Melungeon descendant and even more startling, that the Melungeons were Semitic (Muslin and Jews). Once Ms. Hirschman made this determination, nothing she discovered in her future research dissuaded her from this belief. Beliefs can be a dangerous trap for a researcher, as can emotion. It is very hard to research ones own genealogy and stay objective.

There are most likely many fancifully constructed genealogies that combine truth and supposition and wild ideas and when kept within the immediate family do minimal damage. However Ms. Hirschman used her influential professional background and Brent Kennedy's recommendation to publish this theory as the book under discussion.

The author personally financed many DNA tests from surnames she had decided were Melungeon. Fully expecting a slew of J1 and J2 Y chromosome haplogroups to come pouring in as the results, she was momentarily baffled by the R1b haplogroups most of her hand picked participants were shown to have. ( But then she was struck by the realization that - aha - Scotland was once Jewish. This happy coincidence gave her a title for another book; When Scotland Was Jewish. (

Saving this book for another time, I would like to point out that however sincere Ms. Hirschman's motives are, her complete lack of scholarship concerning research into the Quakers, Huguenots, Primitive Baptists, Masons, Presbyterians and other organizations she contends were "covers" for Jewish activities have done a great disservice to the history of Appalachia in particular and America in general.

The practices she calls Jewish are not. She cites such death customs as covering or turning mirrors to the wall, burying that day or the next, using candles and flowers near the corpse, placing salt and earth on the deceased's abdomen, burying in small family plots, etc. as Jewish when in actuality they were a mixture of superstition and practicality in an age of no embalming and limited transportation.

Likewise, couples marrying in the home was very widespread all over the South, extending into Texas. And young people married cousins, not because they were Jewish, but because they had access to a very limited social circle.

Of course there were a few Jewish families and they likely blended into the rich tapestry of heritages. There could have been a few Turkish indentured servants or other ethnicities also, but they were not the rule; they were the exception.

There is no evidence, DNA or otherwise, that Abraham Lincoln or Daniel Boone were Melungeon, Muslim or Jewish. This and many other unsubstantiated statements make this book a very weak offering for those pursuing an earnest study of these subjects.

The old axiom; Extraordinary claims call for extraordinary evidence, holds true. And this book cannot provide the evidence. I have to conclude that Ms. Hirschman became convinced that she descends from this small mysterious fabled group, the Melungeons, just as they were projected upon the national conscience through books and the Internet. She has attempted to remove any inconveniences that threaten her theories by the expediency of rewriting history if necessary. This is not a book to be taken seriously.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Jimmy Martin: Too Wild for the Opry

By Wayne Winkler
MHS President

Author’s note: Jimmy Martin, of Hancock County, Tennessee, is directly connected to many Melungeon families in that area. This article is reprinted with the permission of Now and Then magazine,, published by the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services at East Tennessee State University.

The Grand Ol’ Opry has often been unkind to the wild men who have graced its stage. Hank Williams’ drinking and drug abuse led to his firing just a few months before he died in 1953. When Elvis Presley brought his R&B-inspired gyrations to the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, the Opry manager told him to go back to driving a truck. But Jimmy Martin – the widely-acknowledged “King of Bluegrass” and the man who created hits like “Sophronie,” “Hit Parade of Love,” and “Widow Maker” – was never invited to be a member of the Grand Ol’ Opry. And sadly, Martin’s reputation for wildness sometimes threatens to overshadow his legacy as one of the most innovative pioneers in bluegrass music.

When asked about his banishment from the Opry, Jimmy often wryly relied that he wasn’t good enough to be a member. At other times, he would blame individuals, particularly his former boss and mentor Bill Monroe, for keeping him off the Opry. But many agree with the assessment of bluegrass musician and promoter Tim White, who commented, “The man who kept Jimmy Martin off the Opry was Jimmy Martin.” Doyle Lawson, who played with Martin, agreed: “Jimmy was probably his own worst enemy.”

“He didn’t get on the Opry because Jimmy was like Jimmy was,” says White. “They were afraid of him – afraid of what he might do or what he might say. But if he wasn’t like he was, he wouldn’t have been Jimmy Martin.”

James Henry Martin was born in 1927 in Sneedville, Tennessee. Like thousands of Americans, he regularly listened to the Grand Ol’ Opry broadcasts from Nashville. As he learned to play the guitar, he dreamed of one day performing on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium with his voice beaming out across the country on radio waves. In the fall of 1949, he made his first step toward country music stardom.

"I was paintin' machinery in a factory in Morristown, Tennessee,” Martin recalled, “and I was playin' on WCPK from 4:30 to 5 every evening. I got fired on my job for singin' too much, and I cussed out the foreman for firin' me. When I went back after my clothes, I seen him on the street, and told him, 'Listen in on Saturday night, 'cause I'm singin' with Bill Monroe on the Grand Ol' Opry.’” Jimmy Martin never lacked confidence.

Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys had introduced the hard-driving sound of bluegrass to country music a few years earlier. Recently, his band had featured vocalist/guitarist Lester Flatt and a banjo player with a unique three-finger style named Earl Scruggs. Flatt and Scruggs left Monroe in 1948 to form their own band, and Mac Wiseman, who was now filling the lead vocal slot, wanted to move on to a solo career. Jimmy Martin had picked a good time to visit Bill Monroe backstage at the Opry. After listening to Martin sing with a borrowed guitar, Monroe told Martin to pack his bags and get ready to hit the road.

Many consider Jimmy Martin the best vocalist ever to sing with Monroe. They recorded some outstanding songs together, including “New Muleskinner Blues,” “I’m On My Way to the Old Home,” “Uncle Pen,” and “Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake.” Martin’s singing inspired Monroe to raise the pitch on some of his classic songs, and the combination of Martin’s lead vocals backed by Monroe’s tenor defined what would become known as the “high lonesome sound.”

But there was tension in the relationship; Martin was somewhat high-strung and temperamental, and was not the type to take a secondary role onstage. A video clip of him performing with Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys shows Martin bopping, dancing, and kicking his leg in contrast to the other musicians who are relatively frozen in place. For his part, Martin resented the low pay Monroe offered his musicians. “When it came time to get paid,” Martin once recalled, “Bill would ask, ‘How much can you get by on this week, Jimmy?’ I was having trouble making it there.”

Martin eventually teamed up with mandolin player Bobby Osborne. They played on the “Farm and Fun Time” on Bristol’s WCYB radio in 1951. “We stayed there for a while,” Martin told Tim White in an interview, “and, you know, it was hard to make a living. We played just percentage shows and WCYB didn’t pay us anything to play on the radio station – we just played there to plug our show dates. I left there and joined ol’ Cas Walker down in Knoxville.” Walker, a grocer who hosted a local morning television program, featured country music and gave early exposure to a number of performers, including Dolly Parton. “He paid us very poorly too, but at least we made enough to eat on.” Then Bobby Osborne went into the Marine Corps and Martin moved to Ohio to work with Bobby banjo-playing brother Sonny, then 14 years old.

After another brief stint with Bill Monroe, Martin returned to Ohio where he worked with another teenaged banjo wizard, J. D. Crowe. Meanwhile, Bobby Osborne (newly discharged from the Marines) and his brother Sonny were in Knoxville. “They were working for Cas [Walker],” Martin recalled, “and I knew what kind of money they were making, when they could get show dates. We started talking about getting together.” Then Casey Clark, the MC of the “Lazy Ranch Barn Dance” on Detroit’s WJR radio, called with a job offer. “When we played the auditorium for Casey there was about 150 people in the audience. They hadn’t heard nothing like what we were doing. We tore the house down.”

Detroit was ripe for some good down-home bluegrass; during and after World War Two, the city was filled with expatriate Southerners who had moved north for good-paying factory jobs. Many of Jimmy Martin’s relatives lived in or near Detroit, including his cousin from Sneedville, Willis Winkler, who was also my father. Jimmy visited the house sometimes and brought a bit of showbiz glamour to our home. He was building quite a name for himself, especially after Casey Clark began broadcasting his “Jamboree” on CKLW-TV from Windsor, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit.

Martin and the Osbornes perfected their three-part harmony singing with Jimmy on lead, Sonny on baritone, and Bobby on tenor. While playing with Bill Monroe, Martin had been offered contracts with RCA, Columbia, and Decca Records, and had later recorded a few songs for Cincinnati-based King Records. Now that he had a band that sounded the way he thought they should sound, he contacted RCA. In November of 1954, Martin and the Osbornes, along with Cedric Rainwater on bass and Red Taylor on fiddle, recorded six songs, including “Save It! Save It!’ and “20-20 Vision.”

“When we went in to record we knew what to do,” said Martin. “We were really rehearsed. My guitar, Bobby’s mandolin, and Sonny’s banjo were all on the same microphone…When Bob would come in and take a break, Sonny knew just how to back him up and I knew just how hard to hit my guitar. Each of us knew when to hit it hard and when to hit it soft. That way the man who cut the records wouldn’t have much to do ‘cause we’d already mixed it for him.”

“Save It! Save It!” and “20-20 Vision” were successful, but that didn’t mean Jimmy and the Osbornes were rolling in money; Sonny’s wife Pat and Jimmy’s wife Barbara had to take jobs to help support their families, leaving the men to take care of their sons during the day and rehearse or work show dates at night. They worked in the Midwest and Canada to appreciative audiences, but by 1957 the Osbornes were ready to leave. It wasn’t an amicable parting and hard feelings persisted between them. The Osbornes moved to Wheeling, West Virginia, and then on to Nashville and the Grand Ol’ Opry. Martin stayed in Detroit and before long he had a mandolin-banjo team that suited him: Paul Williams from Wythe County, Virginia, and the still-teenaged J.D. Crowe from Kentucky.

Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys were offered a regular spot on the “Louisiana Hayride” program originating from 50,000-watt KWKH in Shreveport. The Hayride reflected a broader musical taste than the Grand Ol’ Opry and had provided a welcome to Hank Williams and Elvis Presley when the Opry wanted no part of them. Martin’s contract with RCA was not renewed after his split with the Osbornes, so in February of 1958 he brought his band into the studio for Decca Records.

J. D. Crowe recalled “When we went into the studio there was no rehearsing. We had it all worked out. We’d run over it with the studio musicians. Usually we’d do this stuff in one or two takes. Martin knew exactly what he wanted.”

One of the songs recorded during that session was “Rock Hearts,” which was Martin’s first song to hit the Billboard charts, reaching Number 14 on the list. Later in 1958, Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys recorded more classic numbers, including “Hold Whatcha Got,” “Bear Tracks,” and “Cripple Creek.” Constant rehearsal kept the band sharp and the group practiced vocal harmonies as they drove from date to date. Martin prohibited alcohol use by band members during working hours, and according to Crowe, didn’t drink on the job himself. Later, Martin developed a reputation for drinking which sometimes got out of hand.

In 1959, Martin and the band moved on to the “Wheeling Jamboree” on WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia. This was a very productive time for Martin and many who have worked with him consider this period to be his best. Martin began to tinker with the traditional bluegrass sound on his recordings to make them sound fuller, like the other records coming out of Nashville. “It seemed that whenever they played bluegrass on the radio, the volume always dropped down,” Martin said. “I wanted my records to be loud like the other records. I wanted it to stand out.”
To accomplish this, Jimmy introduced a snare drum in his recordings in 1960. Later, he would introduce elements such as a female voice singing high baritone along with the male singers’ three-part harmonies. These innovations were always wedded to rock-solid bluegrass, anchored by Martin’s trademark “G-run” on the guitar.

He remained a perfectionist in the studio. Doyle Lawson (who, like Martin, had lived in Sneedville) played with Martin in the early 1960s and again in the 1970s.”Jimmy knew exactly what he wanted with his music. It was cut-and-dried; it was not, ‘Well, that’ll do.’ He knew what he wanted and he expected you to play what he was hearing [in his mind]. Of course, he was already established by that time; he was at the top of his form. He had a formula that was working, and he expected anyone who came into the band to play Jimmy Martin’s music.”

Material was also important to Martin, and he was attracted to songs outside the bluegrass field. "I tried to be different in bluegrass, and I tried to pick out good songs,” he told one interviewer. “[The record producers would] play me a tape and I'd say, 'Right here is a real good bluegrass song. You just give that to Bill Monroe or Jim & Jesse, and see if they'll record it, because I don't think it's a good-worded song. Gimme one of them songs ol' Marty Robbins is gonna record, and they'll say it's bluegrass, time I get done with it. There ain't a George Jones song I couldn't sing, but they'd call it bluegrass. Take 'Picture Of Me Without You' -- that's plain bluegrass if I ever heard it. That's a Jimmy Martin song. Hank Williams' songs is perfect bluegrass songs."

Martin’s first long-playing album was released in May of 1960. The title of the album came from producer Owen Bradley’s question to Martin: “What are we going to call this?” Martin replied, “I don’t care, just as long as you call it something good and country.” Good and Country became not only his first album title; it also became the marketing slogan used by Decca Records. The word “bluegrass” never appeared in the title of one of Martin’s albums.

At the end of 1962, Martin, along with Barbara and their boys, Tim and Ray, and most of the Sunny Mountain Boys, moved to Nashville, the center of the country music business and home of the Grand Ol’ Opry. Later, Martin told an interviewer that his old boss, Bill Monroe, had told Barbara, “I’d advise you to stay [in Wheeling]. I hear Jimmy’s doing real well up there. If he moves to Nashville, I’ll do everything in my power against him.” A few years earlier, Monroe had circulated a petition to keep Flatt and Scruggs off the Opry and no one had signed it, so it is doubtful Monroe had the ability to keep Martin off the show. Nonetheless, Martin always blamed Monroe, at least in part, for keeping him from becoming an Opry member. And despite his growing popularity, he found it difficult to get bookings on the Opry.

His Opry appearances were successful but Martin’s aggressive personality and tendency to tell people exactly what was on his mind (especially after a few drinks) alienated some that might have helped him. “It got to where I couldn't even get on there anymore,” he later reflected. “I musta hurt somebody's feelin's, didn't I? I'm not sayin' it braggin'. I just thank the Good Lord that I could walk on Grand Ol' Opry and tear it up. They did promise me that I would be a member. Then it got down to I couldn't even guest on there -- and me encorin' and goin' over big. Now I don't know if I sounded all that good or if the audience felt sorry for me."

During the 1960s, Martin scored several hits – “Widow Maker,” “I’m Just An Old Standby,” “Freeborn Man,” and novelties such as “Guitar Pickin’ President” (penned by an up-and-coming songwriter, Tom T. Hall) and “I Can’t Quit Cigarettes.” Martin enjoyed novelty songs. “I like to see [the audience] slapping their hands and enjoying and laughing, a smile on their faces. I like to see people dance and pat their hands. It takes a novelty to do that. A man can’t be sad all the time. If he does, he’ll get out and shoot himself. He’s got to be happy. The novelty songs do that.” Martin would later contribute stories and vocals to The Possum Tapes and Chicken Pickin’ by the VW Boys.

Life was turbulent in the Martin household. Jimmy and Barbara now had four children – Lisa and Buddy were born after the family moved to Nashville – but Barbara frequently left the home for a while or had Jimmy arrested. By the end of the 1960s, Barbara had left for good, leaving Jimmy to raise the children at their home in Hermitage, just outside Nashville. In 1988, Martin married Theresa Sutherland from Pennsylvania, but that marriage didn’t last either.

Decca Records became MCA in 1970, and Martin’s output began to slow; he recorded only 21 songs for the label between 1970 and 1974. However, in 1972, Martin appeared on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s seminal album Will The Circle Be Unbroken. The album brought veteran performers such as Martin, Roy Acuff, Maybelle Carter, Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson together with relative newcomers like Norman Blake and Earl Scruggs’ sons Randy, Gary, and Steve. The three-record set introduced a generation of urban rock listeners to the sounds of bluegrass and traditional country music and secured Martin’s status as one of the old masters of the music.

In 1974, MCA dropped many veteran country performers from the label, including Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn, and Jimmy Martin. After half a dozen releases on the Gusto label, Martin formed his own Sunny Mountain Records. He had made some good investments and was able to live comfortably while devoting more of his time to hunting than to performing. His status as a pioneer in bluegrass was secure, yet the Grand Ol’ Opry never relented in its determination to keep Martin from becoming a member.

In 1999, writer Tom Piazza released his book True Adventures with the King of Bluegrass, based on a weekend he’d spent with Martin for a magazine article. Piazza recognized Martin’s unique talent but his admiration was overshadowed by his account of Martin’s misadventures backstage at the Opry, where, fueled by whiskey, he squabbled with Ricky Skaggs and threatened to kill Bill Anderson. This type of publicity did not endear Martin to the Opry.

Doyle Lawson, who now leads his own band, Quicksilver, says Martin was hurt by the Opry’s rejection. “He loved the Grand Ol’ Opry; he never lost that passion for it. I think some of the things that were said or happened were simply out of frustration…I worked the Grand Ol’ Opry with Jimmy and when he hit the stage, he had that crowd wrapped around his finger. They loved it – he knocked ‘em dead.”

Tim White of the VW Boys believes Martin took a degree of pleasure in his exclusion from the Opry. “I think he knew the reason he wasn’t on the Opry and I think it tickled him. If he’d had his rathers, he’d rather have been on the Opry. But he actually, at some point, resigned himself [to the idea that] ‘I’ll never be on the Opry, so in that case, I’ll just rub it in their faces a little bit. That’s the way Jimmy was and I loved him for it.”

The final cut on the VW Boy’s Chicken Pickin’ features a hair-raising yodel by Martin, followed by his invitation to come back to visit him at his home. “I’ll do the [yodel] again here in my kitchen for ya, but I can’t do it backstage at the Grand Ol’ Opry, I’ll tell ya that right now.” When White protests, “Aw, they’ll let you in,” Jimmy replies, “Hell no, I can’t go backstage at the Opry no more, ‘cause I can do that stuff and they can’t do it!” There was no mistaking the note of pride and defiance in his voice.

In 2004, Martin learned he had bladder cancer. He died on Saturday, May 14, 2005, and was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery in Nashville, under a tombstone he had designed himself and installed years earlier.

In the summer of 2007, Tom T. Hall released a CD of songs co-written with his wife entitled Tom T. Hall Sings Miss Dixie and Tom T. The final cut on the disc is “Jimmy Martin’s Life Story,” a song which covers the highlights of his life and career and features yodeling from Martin. Doyle Lawson has recorded a CD of Martin’s gospel songs with Martin’s former Sunny Mountain Boys, Paul Williams and J. D. Crowe.

Recent documentaries such as High Lonesome and King of Bluegrass have introduced many listeners to Martin’s music and reminded others of the place Martin carved out for himself in country music. Jimmy Martin’s legacy lives on despite the reluctance of the Opry to acknowledge it. Given the blandness of today’s corporate country music, Jimmy might have even taken a bit of pride in the knowledge that he was too wild, too outspoken, and far too real for the Grand Ol’ Opry.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Mountain Laurel

The Mountain Laurel is an online journey into "the Heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains." Here you will meet people like Ella Boyd, a mountain midwife, and Henry Harris, who left home at age 13, to make his fortune in the rough and tumble coal fields of West Virginia.

These people and the times and places where they lived are as tightly woven into the American tapestry as Valley Forge and the Wilderness Road. The stories of their lives are a link to a bygone era and the memories shared here are a national treasure.

Close your eyes for a moment, imagine an old country store at a mountain crossroad with a counter worn smooth by years of hands and commerce. Feel the warmth and smell the wood burning in the pot bellied stove, hear the laughter of neighbors gathered 'round sharing a "tale."

Let's travel together to a time before the chestnut blight swept through the Blue Ridge and killed the vast groves of American chestnut trees; before paved roads, electricity and tourists; all the way back to a simpler way of life. It was a time of grist mills, log cabins and family farms where we'll get to know the people and places in the "Heart of the Blue Ridge."

To visit the Mountain Laurel: Click Here.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Appalachian Arts Center

The Appalachian Arts Center is a 4000 square foot gallery, marketplace and educational resource. The center is divided into seven small gallery spaces devoted exclusively to the exhibition and sale of work created by local craftspeople, artists, student apprentices, authors and musicians; while a large rotating exhibition space showcases regional artisans. A variety of educational demonstrations, artist talks, professional development workshops and craft courses are offered, as well as a business curriculum, Entrepreneurship for Artisans.

To visit the Appalachian Arts Center's web site: Click Here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Bolling/Bowling Genealogy

Bolling/Bowling Notes
By Virginia Easley DeMarce, Ph.D.
Historian and Past President
Of the National Genealogical Society

To read the notes: Click Here.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Federal Map Stats

A wealth of online statistical data from the Federal government, available by state, county, city, congressional district, or Federal judicial district.

To visit: Click Here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Knox County Genealogy and History

To visit Knox County's GenWeb site: Click Here.

To locate GenWeb sites for other counties of interest:: Click Here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

More Louisa County Genealogy and History

Here is another good source for information pertaining to Louisa County, Virginia.

To visit: Click Here.

For the January 22 MHS Blog entry on Louisa County: Click Here.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Center for Virtual Appalachia

Hosted by Morehead State College
Morehead, Kentucky
  • The Library of Appalachia
  • Quilt Collection
  • Photo Tour
  • Data Sources
  • News
To visit the Center for Virtual Appalachia: Click Here.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Appalachian Quilt Trail

Tour the Appalachian Quilt Trail (AQT)

The AQT is a chance to experience the beauty and tranquility of Tennessee's historic byways. Take a hike on the Appalachian Trail, ride the rapids, cycle our scenic backroads, fish world-famous streams, birdwatch, or explore one of the largest underground caves in the country... Whatever your interests, there are an endless amount of things to do, places to stay, and events along the trail. Quilters and quilt lovers, there's something here for everyone in the family! Follow the Quilt Trail to find barn quilts but also, all manner of other attractions along the trail, marked by painted wooden AQT Heritage Quilt Squares.

Be sure to stop and visit us at the AQT headquarters in Rutledge, Grainger County, Tennessee, located along scenic Hwy 11w! Mark your calendars, come to East Tennessee for the 2009 Jonesborough Quiltfest and also, the American Quilters' Society Expo in Knoxville a week apart. Check the events calendar for dates and information.

To visit the AQT site: Click Here.

Note: The AQT seems to be centered around Hancock County and features a "Big Halley Loop" which focuses on the Melungeons. Unfortunately, the Melungeon information presented by the site, and presumably on the AQT itself, is woefully inaccurate.

Pictured above is a quilt apparently owned by the Collins family of Hancock County, the pattern of which the AQT site identifies as "The Melungeon Star."