By Susan M. Thigpen © 1983-2012
Issue: October, 1983
It was more than a concert, it was a rare privilege to be attending the Stoneman Family Festival at Willis, Virginia in August. The reason it was more than a concert was that family members from Maryland and Tennessee traveled here for a reunion. Some members of the family are professional musicians, others, though accomplished musicians have turned to other walks of life, but all have music in their blood, the heritage of their parents, the famous pioneer of country music, Ernest V. “Pop” Stoneman and his wife, Hattie.
As we arrived, another musical group was playing. It was a locally based new group called Virginia Breeze who has just made their first record. (See article on Virginia Breeze in this issue.) They had the audience warmed up and ready when the Stoneman’s came on. There was a feeling of continuity that a new group from this area would be followed by the oldest musical family from the Blue Ridge. Three generations of Stoneman’s gathered to play the music they cut their teeth on. There was a joy in the music and atmosphere because you could tell they were combining what they enjoyed most; being together and making music.
Patsy Stoneman told me the place they grew up was called “Music Hollow.” Where’s that? I knew it was in Carroll County not far from the site of the Willis concert, which was in Floyd County, but where in Carroll County? Patsy said near Iron Ridge. Seeing no sign of recognition on my face she said, “Monorat.” (Still no recognition.) Then when she said the name of the next largest community, Fries, I got my bearings. She said the little community was called “Music Hollow” because every time her parents came home from recording (In New York City at that time and later, “Pop” Stoneman was the first artist to record in Nashville.) that people who lived around there would flood in and there would be music made and dancing all day and night.
“Pop” Stoneman was born in 1893 in Carroll County, Virginia near the mining community of Iron Ridge. In 1919 he married Hattie Frost, also from a musical family. Patsy Stoneman said her father lived about six miles from her mother when he was courting her and had to walk the distance to see her. After they were married, they counted the miles he had walked to see her and they were enormous!
At this time “Pop” Stoneman was working as a carpenter trying to support his new bride but played music at night for local dances and in the homes of friends.
The information about Stoneman family history is being put together by Patsy Stoneman and each of the twelve surviving sons and daughters of “Pop” Stoneman, to be published as a book soon. There are also negotiations for a movie and maybe a TV series based on this book. Just from the information on the inside cover of their record album, “The Stoneman’s - The First Family of Country Classics,” I can tell the book will be both informative and most interesting.
“Pop” and Hattie Stoneman had 23 children and times were often very harsh while trying to support such a large family, during the depression especially. One of the songs on this album, written by Patsy Stoneman herself is about that era in her childhood. The name of the song is “Prayers and Pinto Beans” because, she said, “That’s what we, my brothers and sisters were raised on.” You can’t talk to any of the Stoneman’s without realizing love was a big part of it too. Before the children were very old, they joined their parents in forming a family band.
Patsy said that their father never inhibited them to any one style of music but encouraged them to enjoy any style they chose, even though “Pop” himself remained true to the old time country style. To listen to a Stoneman Family concert is to take a trip through the entire progression of country music and they perform it all equally well. They perform the great classics such as “Mule Skinner Blues” with the purity of its roots.
If you ever get a chance to see them in person, take it. You’ll be well satisfied. If you can’t see them in person, the next best thing is their records. Their records are available at County Record Sales, P.O. Box 191, Floyd, Virginia 24091, phone (540) 745-2001. Patsy Stoneman herself said they have the most complete selection of both her father’s old time recordings and their present ones of any place she knows.
I asked Patsy what the Stoneman Family’s highest hopes and goals were for the future and she said without a moment’s hesitation, “The greatest joy to us all would be to see our father’s name placed in the Country Music Hall of Fame.” I agree with Patsy, I think it’s an honor well deserved.
[Update 2012 - Ernest V. "Pop" Stoneman was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.]