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Returning Home, Ballad Singers And Storytellers Across Appalachia

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Courtesy of Kenneth King and the WV Mine Wars Museum
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Miners stand in line to turn over their guns in 1921 during the Battle of Blair Mountain.

This week’s episode is all about ballad singers and storytellers.

We’ll hear an interview with West Virginia native Becca Spence Dobias who wrote a novel called “On Home.” The main character has to return home to West Virginia after tragedy strikes.

And co-host Mason Adams sits down with ballad singer Elizabeth LaPrelle, who grew up in Rural Retreat, Virginia. She and her husband Brian Dolphin moved from Brooklyn back to southwestern Virginia just before the pandemic hit. As longtime performers and new parents they took to Facebook Live, posting weekly livestreams of lullabies and stories.

We’ll also hear about a song called “Tom Dooley,” which was first released shortly after the Civil War. It resurfaced 60 years ago, when it topped the Billboard charts. It had everything: A love triangle, a grisly murder, a manhunt, and a hanging. Folkways reporter Heather Duncan is a native of Wilkes County, North Carolina, where the song unfolds. Recently she set out to explore why ballads like Tom Dooley, based on real tragedies and real people, have such staying power.

And we’ll hear from a contemporary ballad singer Saro Lynch Thomason, who uses the tradition of ballad singing in protests and marches.

In This Episode:

  • Buckhannon Native Talks About Leaving And Returning In Her Novel ‘On Home’
  • Appalachian Folksinger Talks Parenthood, Pandemic And Livestreaming Lullabies
  • Singing The News: Ballads Tell A Tale Of Community
  • Songs of Solidarity: The West Virginia Mine Wars

Buckhannon Native Talks About Leaving And Returning In Her Novel On Home

Becca Headshot
Courtesy of author.
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Becca Spence Dobias, a West Virginia native, is the author of "On Home," about the struggle to stay in the Mountain State.

West Virginia native Becca Spence Dobias’ novel “On Home” is about the struggle many people from the Mountain State feel in leaving, and the pull to return home. The main character is a young, queer woman who grew up in Buckhannon, but left, thinking she’d never return. She’s living in southern California, but tragedy strikes, and she finds herself back in West Virginia. Inside Appalachia co-host Caitlin Tan interviewed Dobias about her book.

Appalachian Folksinger Talks Parenthood, Pandemic And Livestreaming Lullabies

Elizabeth LaPrelle
Singer Elizabeth LaPrelle used Facebook Live as a way to continue performing during the pandemic. She and her husband posted weekly livestreams of lullabies and stories.

Elizabeth LaPrelle grew up performing music with her family in southwestern Virginia. Today, she is taking the tradition forward by playing with her own, young family for a social media audience that watched throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Singing The News: Ballads Tell A Tale Of Community
The famous American ballad, “Tom Dooley,” is a song from shortly after the Civil War that, somehow, struck a universal chord 60 years ago, when it topped the Billboard charts. It has everything: A love triangle, a grisly murder, a manhunt, and a hanging. Reporter Heather Duncan set out to explore why ballads like Tom Dooley still capture our imagination.

Songs of Solidarity: The West Virginia Mine Wars

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Rebecca Williams
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Saro Lynch-Thomason is a ballad singer and folklorist from Asheville North Carolina. Saro created the Blair Pathways Project, which tells the history of the West Virginia Mine Wars through music.

The West Virginia Mine Wars played out over two decades of fighting between coal miners and their employers over the workers' right to belong to a union. In 1921, the conflicts culminated in the Battle of Blair Mountain, when thousands of armed miners and company men faced off in the remote hills of Logan County, West Virginia. The miners eventually surrendered peacefully, once the U.S. Army showed up. Last August marked the 100th anniversary of the battle. Folkways reporter Rebecca Williams talked with Saro Lynch-Thomason, ballad singer and folklorist from Ashville, North Carolina. Thomason created the Blair Pathway Project, which tells the history of the West Virginia Mine Wars through music.

Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, Saro Lynch-Thomason was one of our Inside Appalachia Folkways reporters in 2019.

Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Blue Dot Sessions, Jake Schepps, and Dinosaur Burps. Roxy Todd is our producer. Our executive producer is Eric Douglas. Kelley Libby is our editor. Alex Runyon is our associate producer. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode.

You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.

Stay Connected
Inside Appalachia Co-Host/Folkways Reporter, mason.j.adams@gmail.com, @MasonAtoms
Inside Appalachia Co-Host/Folkways Reporter, ctan@wvpublic.org, 307-231-9865, @miss_ctan
Reporter/Producer for Inside Appalachia, rtodd@wvpublic.org, 304-556-4936, @RoxyMTodd
Alex Runyon is a proud Huntington, West Virginia native. She attended Marshall University and earned degrees in creative writing and literary studies, dabbling in journalism, photography and women’s studies along the way. She worked as a freelance photographer and social media strategist before joining the Inside Appalachia team as Associate Producer. Alex enjoys writing and performing stand up comedy, hiking, screenwriting and playing board games. She lives in Huntington, West Virginia with her cat, Waylon Kittings. Follow her on Twitter @_AlexRunyon.