Patuxent CD-183 The Stonemans - Patsy, Donna & Roni
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The Stonemans rank among country and bluegrass music’s legendary families. Ernest “Pop” Stoneman of Galax, Virginia, four decades after his death, would be honored with his elevation to the Country Music Hall of Fame. His children carried on the tradition. Now, only three of the children remain to carry on the Stoneman family’s music heritage —daughters Patsy, Donna, and Roni. Each has over a half-century of experience and either together or separately continues in music with pride and skill.
In July 2008, Patsy, Donna, and Roni journeyed to Maryland to make their first project for Patuxent Music. Eldest surviving daughter, octogenarian Patsy, leads with her rendition of the ballad that kicked off the Stoneman career, “Sinking of the Titanic.” Vocally, Patsy prefers the arrangement that Pop used on the 1926 Edison recording which contains a verse not used on the 1925 OKeh original. Patsy also draws from Pop’s repertoire for three other vocals. These include “The Birds Are Returning,” an 1876 song that Ernest recorded with Fields Ward in 1929. This lyric was first known as “Sweet Bird,” but because of the Carter Family rendition, it has more commonly become known as “Sweet Fern.” “Barney McCoy” dates from 1881 and concerns the Great Migration of Irish people to America and the emotional pain of having to leave some loved ones behind. Pop recorded it in 1926 as did Uncle Eck Dunford in 1927. “Tell My Mother I Will Meet Her” first appeared in a 1900 hymn book and Pop cut it for both Edison and Victor in 1927. Patsy closes out her featured numbers with her autobiographical “Prayers and Pinto Beans” which she first did on a CMH album in 1981.
Donna Stoneman’s spirited mandolin is featured on virtually every number on this project, but is heard most prominently on her original tune, “Scotty’s Bow,” a tribute to her late brother fiddle virtuoso Scott (1932-1973). Donna, who does evangelistic work, contributes the original sacred lyric, “House of the Lord.” “This Little Light of Mine” was popularized by the duo of James and Martha Carson on Capitol Records, but Donna’s version is largely her own. She also leads on the high-powered bluegrass gospel standard, “I Feel Like Traveling On,” which they trace to a recording by Carl Story and His Rambling Mountaineers.
Veronica “Roni” Stoneman is probably the best known of the sisters through her long association with the television show Hee Haw. She also pays tribute to her dad and late brother Jim with the 1880 song, “Remember the Poor Tramp Has to Live,” a hobo number that Pop recorded for four different record companies in his heyday. Two of Roni’s other songs stem from bluegrass tradition. Cousin Emmy’s “Ruby” was made a standard by the Osborne Brothers in the mid-1950s and also by Wilma Lee Cooper as “Stoney.” Jimmie Davis recorded “Shackles and Chains” in 1937, but newer artists owe more of a debt to Mac Wiseman and to Jimmy Martin who perpetuated its popularity. Finally, “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know” was a big country hit for the Davis Sisters (Betty Jack and Skeeter) in 1953. Donna and Roni’s duet does justice to the original.
In all, this collection of songs demonstrate that the Stoneman tradition remains alive and well in the 21st century providing enjoyment for you and generations to come.
-- Ivan M. Tribe, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Rio Grande (OH) and author of The Stonemans: An Appalachian Family and the Music that Shaped Their Lives (University of Illinois Press, 1993).