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The Modern Coal Mining Song

Music is a diverse form of expression that takes in many styles. It's a popular field that can only be briefly sampled in a short article.

Big Brother Arrives in 1962

In 1962, this new and gigantic  coal removal machine was dubbed Big Brother. after its arrival in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky

In 1962, this new and gigantic coal removal machine was dubbed Big Brother. after its arrival in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky

The Breakthrough

In 1945 Merle Travis wrote and recorded Dark As a Dungeon. Not only did the sad lament hit it big on the music charts, but also, the song helped establish Travis as a major Country singing artist. Merle Travis was raised in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, where his father worked on a coal company farm, while also spending some time employed in the local coal mines.

By contrast, Merle was something of a musical prodigy, who mastered a popular style of guitar picking, unique to central Kentucky. Merle went on to record many hits, including Sixteen Tons, another story of hardship from Kentucky's coal country.

Dark As a Dungeon

You Don't Have To Be a Coal Miner's Daughter To Be a C & W Music Star

You don't have to be a coal miner's daughter to be a Country Music Star, but it definitely helps. Loretta Lynn, who hails from Kentucky, was well into a fair to midling Nashville recording and performing career, when she launched this personal number back in 1971. After this gritty tale of survival hit the charts at Number 1, Loretta's life has never been the same.


Coal Miner's Daughter

You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive

On the Virginia-West Virginia Borderline

Historically, the Virginia-West Virginia is kind of a big deal. That's because right before the Civil War, West Virginia withdrew from Virginia to form its own state. Not surprisingly the issue was slavery. Virginia chose to keep its slaves, while the newly-formed West Virginia became a free state.

Though the following two singers/songwriters come from Virginia-West Virginia region, the topic here is coal, not slavery. Furthermore, it is not so much a for or against issue, but rather, a bittersweet look at life in coal country.

Hazel Dickems Sings About Black Lung

A Coal Train A'Coming

The Men Have a Go At It

Overall, the coal belt of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and Southern Illinois has produced quite a few notable songwriters, as well, as intriguing stories put to music. Not surprisingly, many of these musicians have found an audience and home in nearby Nashville.

One of the earliest people to write about life in the coal belt was Merle Travis, a miner's son, who grew up in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Travis penned many songs about his Kentucky life, including this number, which has been covered by many singers.

Like Merle,the other three male singers, all hail from coal country, but as one might expect, their stories differ significantly. Take a listen and enjoy.

Coal Mining Man

A West Virginia Voice

The Muddy Coal Mine and Short Interview with Rocky Alvey

Other Side of the Coin

Not all music about coal mining is sad, for some of the attitudes are upbeat and hopeful. Perhaps this is best exemplified in George Davis's Coal Miner's Boogie. Davis, who spent much of his life in Hazard, Kentucky came to be known across Appalachia, as the singing miner. After working in the mines, George became a radio personality, who wrote and performed his own music. This number comes from an album, titled When Kentucky Had No Union Men.

Besides Davis, I have chosen to feature Jimmy Rose, who after doing well on the popular TV program, America's Got Talent, has successfully ventured out on his own music career. Moreover, one should take note that Jimmy;s success came only after working in the mines for a few years before joining the military and being deployed to the Middle East.

Cool Miner's Boogie

Coal Keeps the Lights On

Shenandoah River in Autumn

The Shenandoah River forms the border between Virginia and West Virginia.

The Shenandoah River forms the border between Virginia and West Virginia.

Can You a Be a Country Music Star If You're Not from Coal Country?

The answer is a definitive yes, but since this is question is even asked, seems to indicate that there is a disproportionate number of Nashville recording artists, who grew up in mining country. On the other hand, writing a song about miners and their family members has not been limited to those who grew up in Appalachia. Check this number by Townes Van Zandt of "Pancho and Lefty" fame, as he and Nanci Griffith perform this story about a miner's daughter in a tune, called "Tecumseh Valley".

Tecumseh Valley

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Harry Nielsen

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