The southern rim of West Virginia, a rugged land of steep hills and narrow valleys, was one of the last areas of the eastern United States to be opened and populated. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad passed just north of this region shortly after the end of the Civil War, and by 1890 the Norfolk and Western Railroad ran north from Virginia to meet the C and O. This opened the vast southern West Virginia coal fields to an industrializing nation, and brought former slaves and their families into the mountains. Bluefield, West Virginia, at the southern point of the state, became the major city of this coal boom. The town ballooned from 600 residents in 1890 to over 5,000 in 1900, largely through the immigration of African-American miners. In 1895, the state established the Bluefield Colored Institute to train Black teachers for the segregated coal-camp schools scattered throughout the region. Half a century later, it was a professor at the renamed Bluefield State College who unearthed the music heard in this recording. Work and Pray includes railroad work chants, ancient spirituals, hammer songs, slave-era songs, and field recordings from southern West Virginia, 1949-1953. A rich, varied, and powerful collection reflecting part of the African-American experience in Appalachia.
1. Lining Track-Clarence Harman
Cortez D. Reece traveled the winding roads to the old coal camps and railroad towns, seeking out the traditional songs which reflected the unique heritage of this largely overlooked culture. From 1949 through 1953, Reece preserved over 150 songs. These formed the basis of his dissertation A Study of Selected Folksongs Collected Mainly in Southern West Virginia, for which he earned his Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Southern California in 1955.