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Folklife Festival 2003 > Appalachia> Performers > Occupational Songs
occupational songs
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From the earliest days of settlement to now, Appalachian people have created music that has evoked everyday life in the region. Today, traditional as well as popular songs and tunes from Appalachia depict such old-time trades as hunting, foraging, farming, herding, blacksmithing, and moonshining and such modern occupations as railroading, coal mining, timbering, and truck-driving.

Song has been used in the region to accompany work itself, but equally important is its use as social commentary. Workers, especially those in the "coal fields," used songs as a rallying cry and response to the frequently inhuman conditions they were forced to endure. These songs were created by local writers such as the Garland family in Kentucky or taken from Union songbooks. Union struggles in mine country were accompanied by such songs as "Which Side Are You On?" and "I Don't Want Your Millions, Mister."


Coming to the festival...


The Buckingham Lining Bar Gang

Charles W. White, leader, Buckingham, Virginia
Frank Austin, Buckingham, Virginia
Frank Cottrell, Arrington, Virginia
Robert Jones, Prospect, Virginia
Asbury Laury, Buckingham, Virginia
John H. Laury, Buckingham, Virginia
Daniel McKinney, Dillwyn, Virginia
Samuel Mosley, Buckingham, Virginia
William Eddie Neighbors, Buckingham, Virginia
Isaac W. Pankey, Green Bay, Virginia

—Railroad work crews wrote songs to help them get through their day-to-day work. Rhythmic work chants were used to help time out the laying and lining up of railroad track before the process was taken over by machines. The Buckingham Lining Bar Gang is made up of retired railroad workers from Buckingham County, Virginia, who demonstrate this process.
Elaine Purkey, Ranger, West Virginia, guitar

—Elaine Purkey began to write songs while involved in the Pittston Coal Strike in 1989-90. She began to perform at festivals in the 1990s and impressed all those who heard her, including the great labor songwriter Hazel Dickens.
Carl Rutherford, Warriormine, West Virginia, guitar
—Carl Rutherford worked the mines as a youth until bad health forced him to find another line of work. He is a composer of strong mining songs including "Tops Off Our Pretty Mountains." Rutherford is also a fine guitar player in the style of country music pioneers Dick Justice and Frank Hutchison.
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