Work and Pray

Work and Pray

Cortez Reece
CD  978-0-937058-75-6



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
  2. Lining Track-Albert McCoy
  3. Laying Steel-Albert McCoy
  4. Ten Pound Hammer-Albert McCoy
  5. Steal Away-Memphis T. Garrison
  6. Shout Yo' Double Shout-Memphis T. Garrison
  7. I Didn't Know I Had To Pray So Hard-Blanche Simmons
  8. Jacob's Ladder-Waldo Dickason
  9. Palms of Victory-Waldo Dickason
10. Way Over in the Promised Land-Waldo Dickason
11. Drinking the Wine-Waldo Dickason
12. John Henry-Susan White
13. This Old Hammer-Nelson Harmon
14. Section Boss-Nelson Harmon
15. This Old Hammer-P.R. Higginbotham
16. Railroad Graders-Henry L. Dickason
17. Ride to Heavan-Henry L. Dickason
18. Away in the Kingdom-Henry L. Dickason
19. We're Baptized in the Water-Henry L. Dickason
20. When the Roll Is Called-Henry L. Dickason
21. Won't You Go With Me-John Wade
22. Go Home to My Father and Be Saved-John Wade
23. Good Old Chariot-Mrs. John Wade
24. Lord I Don't Want to Die in the Storm-Frank Wade
25. Ride on Jesus-R.L. Pollard
26. Rock Me Chariot-R.L. Pollard
27. Lord I Won't Stop Praying-R.L. Pollard
28. Prepare Me O Lord-(unknown)
29. God Got His Eyes on You-Bell Edward Pate
30. John the Revelator-Joe Perkins
31. Lining Track-Joe Perkins
32. Linging Track-Charles L. Holland
33. I Wish I Had-a Heard Them-Charles L. Holland
34. (narration)-Esther Johnson
35. In That Morning-Esther Johnson
36. Some Bright Day-Esther Johnson
37. Shoeshine Boy-(unknown)
38. We Are Traveling to the Grave


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.