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Jane Hicks Gentry

Jane Hicks Gentry: A Singer Among Singers

Betty N. Smith
With a Foreword by Cecelia Conway
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: 1
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Jane Hicks Gentry
    Book Description:

    "Winner of the North Carolina Society of Historians Award Jane Hicks Gentry lived her entire life in the remote, mountainous northwest corner of North Carolina and was descended from old Appalachian families in which singing and storytelling were part of everyday life. Gentry took this tradition to heart, and her legacy includes ballads, songs, stories, and riddles. Smith provides a full biography of this vibrant woman and the tradition into which she was born, presenting seventy of Gentry's songs and fifteen of the "Jack" tales she learned from her grandfather. When Englishman Cecil Sharp traveled through the South gathering material for his famous English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians, his most generous informant was Jane Hicks Gentry. But despite her importance in Sharp's collection, Gentry has remained only a name on his pages. Now Betty Smith, herself a folksinger, brings to life this remarkable artist and her songs and tales.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4835-9
    Subjects: History, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Cecelia Conway

    Jane Hicks Gentry: A Singer Among Singersis an engaging book. Betty Smith wishes that Gentry could have written the book herself; we are lucky that Smith has written it for us. Her energy, patience, and sensitivity may be akin to Gentry’s own, and Smith’s insights benefit from her own standing as a singer and musician.

    In many ways, this book resembles some of those written by women about Appalachia during Gentry’s lifetime—and the book she herself might have written had she not been too busy living to record her life. Smith’s dedication to uncovering Gentry’s life story is...

  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. I. Meet Jane Hicks Gentry

    • Chapter 1 An Introduction
      (pp. 3-9)

      On October 6, 1987, an historical marker was erected by the state of North Carolina in front of a house called Sunnybank in Hot Springs. It reads:

      English folklorist Cecil Sharp in 1916 collected ballads in the “Laurel Country.” Jane Gentry who supplied many of the songs lived here.

      She was called “a singer among singers,” and some said she was the most beautiful singer they had ever heard. In Jane Gentry’s world, ballads were a part of everyday life. Among her own people in the mountains of western North Carolina she was known as a singer, one of the...

    • Chapter 2 The Hickses and the Harmons
      (pp. 10-21)

      Although Cecil Sharp and Isabel Gordon Carter published Jane Gentry’s oral materials, they told us very little about her. It is not unusual that the singer or storyteller is known by name only while the song or story receives attention as an important piece of oral literature. Sharp and his assistant, Maud Karpeles, spoke in general terms of the people of the Appalachian communities where the collecting was done, and Sharp admired their natural good manners and the musical environment in which they lived. He was much impressed with the quality and the quantity of Jane’s songs. Carter spoke of...

    • Chapter 3 From Watauga to Madison
      (pp. 22-30)

      In about the year 1875 several Watauga County families moved to Madison County, North Carolina. This rugged, mountainous county played its part in the westward movement. The main traffic route from the coast to the Midwest went through Madison County. As early as 1795 a wagon traveled from South Carolina to Knoxville, Tennessee, through Warm Springs (later Hot Springs) and Paint Rock at the Tennessee state line. In time drovers by the hundreds and thousands drove their stock along this road through Madison County to Charleston and other points south and east.¹

      It is doubtful that these Watauga families were...

    • Chapter 4 Plantin’ and Hoein’ on Meadow Fork
      (pp. 31-39)

      After their November 1879 wedding, Newt and Jane settled in to married life near Marshall. Growing up as the oldest girl in the family had prepared Jane well for her role as wife and mother. She had looked forward to having children of her own, and a year later their first baby, Lydia Nora, was born. Her birth was registered at Marshall. By the time Martha Emily, their second child, was born in 1882, Newt and Jane had moved back to Meadow Fork. Her birth was registered at Lynch on Meadow Fork, as were those of their next six children,...

    • Chapter 5 Moving to Town
      (pp. 40-49)

      “I would leave them as they are and not meddle. They are happy, contented, and live simply and healthily, and I am not at all sure that any of us can introduce them to anything better than this,” Cecil Sharp wrote to Mrs. James Storrow, a devoted supporter who assisted him during his stay in America and was his hostess at her home in Lincoln, Massachusetts, in 1916. He had met teachers in the mission schools whom he admired, but he had questions about what they were teaching. He thought that the people they had come to improve were in...

    • Chapter 6 The Writer Meets the Storyteller
      (pp. 50-55)

      This is not the first book written about Jane Gentry. Irving Bacheller (1859-1950), a famous writer of novels and short stories and Sunday editor of theNew York Worldunder Joseph Pulitzer, wrote a novel in 1916 titled “The Tower of a Hundred Bells.” It was a tale of the mountains of western North Carolina in a valley in which he spent three winters.

      An account of a meeting that led the author to Jane Gentry was written up in a quarterly report to the Women’s Board of Missions of the Presbyterian Church USA in April 1914. Carrie B. Pond,...

    • Chapter 7 Old Counce, Jane, and the Jack Tales
      (pp. 56-64)

      In Jane Gentry’s day, storytelling was not taught. Old Counce planted the seed. He simply told the stories as they had been told to him, and the children listened. The stories were shaped by the social group in which they thrived, as were the children. The family and the community passed judgment on the content of the stories just as they shaped the personalities of the children and conveyed their rituals, customs, and traditions. To be a member of a community is to share its myths. The stories and the songs were Jane’s cultural inheritance. She met ghosts of past...

    • Chapter 8 Balladry
      (pp. 65-73)

      In 1916 Cecil Sharp, an English musician and collector, came to Madison County. He was interested in songs and ballads of British origin. The “Laurel Country” along the North Carolina—Tennessee border proved to be fertile ground. Sharp visited singers in five Appalachian states, but here he found the most primitive conditions and the most songs. Sharp brought with him an assistant, Maud Karpeles, and for the first time both texts and tunes were written down. From Jane Gentry he collected seventy songs and ballads, more than from any other singer he encountered in the Southern Appalachians. Forty of these...

    • Chapter 9 The Songs She Sang
      (pp. 74-83)

      When a genealogical study was compiled to gather information on the current musicians and the musicians from whom Sharp collected in Madison County, it was found that most of them belonged to one extended family and were descended from one early settler.

      Through a review of county vital statistics, census records, and interviews with older residents of the county, Frances Dunham has found that almost all of the Sharp contributors were descendants of one man, Roderick Shelton. Of the thirty-nine contributors to Sharp from Madison County, twenty-eight have been identified as Shelton descendants, three as spouses of his descendants, and...

    • Chapter 10 Riddles and Rhymes
      (pp. 84-91)

      There was great respect and love among Jane and Newt Gentry and their children. Although they worked hard and much was expected of them, the children felt fortunate to have them for parents and said as much. There was laughter and fun in the Gentry home. At a family reunion in 1980, Lalla said to those gathered: “I tell you that was one of the happiest homes and there’s nothing in the world that makes a happier home than a bunch of kids.”

      When Maud recorded for the Library of Congress she went into some detail about life in the...

    • Chapter 11 Time Passes
      (pp. 92-98)

      The children grew up and, one by one, married and moved away from home. Nola Jane would go through the house saying, “Mama, they’re taking too much.” Each one who left took some things from home, but her mother smiled and made little of it. They took memories that were more important than the objects they took. They took memories of a busy, singing mother who could figure out how to do almost anything. They took memories of a gentle father who taught them how to grow vegetables and who told scary stories about hunting and trapping game to put...

    • Chapter 12 Epilogue
      (pp. 99-104)

      During Jane Gentry’s lifetime there was a great deal of activity in the fields of folklore and collecting. Folklore societies had been formed in Missouri, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. In the 1920s regional collecting and publishing were going on in New England (Phillips Barry), Kentucky (Josiah Combs, Hubert Shearin, Josephine McGill, Loraine Wyman, Howard Brockway), South Carolina (Reed Smith), Virginia (C. Alphonso Smith, Arthur Kyle Davis), West Virginia (John Harrington Cox), Missouri (H.M. Belden), North Carolina (Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Frank C. Brown), and in other states as far-flung as Nebraska (Louise Pound) and Texas (John Lomax, J. Frank...

  6. Part II Jane Hicks Gentry’s Jack Tales
    (pp. 105-134)

    The tales published here were collected in the summer of 1923 by Isabel Gordon Carter and published in her “Mountain White Folk-Lore: Tales from the Southern Blue Ridge” (Journal of American Folklore35 [July-September 1925]). In her notes on the tales, Carter refers to Johannes Bolte and Georg Polivka’sAnmerkungen zu den kinder- und Hausmarchen der bruder Grimm, 5 vols. (Berlin, 1913-32), a commentary on the classic Grimm tales. Carter’s references are noted at the end of each tale.

    Folk tales have been classified into recurring types, which transcend political and ethnic boundaries. The types indicated in the notes here...

  7. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  8. Part III Jane Hicks Gentry’s Songs
    (pp. 135-198)
    John Forbes

    The manuscripts for Jane Gentry’s songs were obtained on microfilm from the Houghton Library, Harvard University Library. Cecil Sharp’s original manuscript collection is in the Clare College Library at Cambridge University, where he studied. He told Harvard professor George Lyman Kittredge that he wanted a set to go to Francis Child’s college (Harvard University). This was arranged after Sharp’s death by his literary executor, Maud Karpeles.

    John Forbes, formerly a member of the music department of Berea College and now head librarian at Baker University, Baldwin, Kansas, transcribed Jane Gentry’s tunes from the Sharp manuscripts. He also transcribed Maud Long’s...

  9. Appendixes

    • Appendix A. Song Listings in the Sharp and Bronson Collections
      (pp. 199-201)
    • Appendix B. Discography of Maud Gentry Long
      (pp. 202-202)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 203-210)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-214)
  12. Index
    (pp. 215-226)