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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) 2/26/16 - Nancy Blevins

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JanetB - Posted - 02/26/2016:  05:55:19

My interest in Nancy Blevins perked when I discovered its source recording is of a fiddler well-known along Virginia’s Crooked Road.  My husband and I had driven this scenic and musical region in 2009, but little did I know how much it would continue to inspire me (if you haven’t heard about it check out:  The Crooked Road website). 


The namesake for the tune came from neighboring North Carolina, another region rich in good music.  Nancy Blevins began as an original little dance tune in the 1800’s, named for the North Carolina fiddler who composed and fiddled it.   The real person Nancy Blevins was still an active fiddler in the 1920’s.  

The tune was later popularized by the fiddler Albert Hash (1917 – 1983), who lived in Grayson County, Virginia along the Crooked Road.  Albert learned the tune from his step-uncle, Jim Reedy, realizing that his family was related to the fiddler Nancy Blevins.

Through Fiddle Hangout I located Albert Hash’s nephew, Kilby Spencer.  His parents, Thornton and Emily, were original members of Albert Hash’s Whitetop Mountain Band and still perform today.   Kilby provided this quote by his uncle Albert:   “…my granddad’s cousin was a young lady, I guess getting to be about grown and she played the fiddle.  Her name was Nancy Blevins and she had made up this tune and called it Nancy Blevins. And she would play it and he was wearing a dress.  The little boys wore dresses, maybe til four years old sometimes….it was back just after the Civil War for he said he could remember dancing to that tune with a dress on, and boys wore a dress for a couple years like little girls did back then….She was a great fiddler….My grandfather could remember one verse that went into the tune. ‘I've played this fiddle till it cramps my hand, nary another tune till I get another dram.’”

Albert Hash’s life story is described in depth here:  Mountain Music Magazine article with recordings and videos.  One learns that that he began fiddling at a young age guided by his uncle George Finley, Corbett Stamper and G.B. Grayson.  He made his first fiddle age 10 since his family couldn’t afford to buy one.  Albert as a teenager actually replaced Grayson for a while when his famous partner, Henry Whitter, needed a fiddler. 

Albert became a luthier and performer, as well as a mechanic who served in the army, and was well-liked and respected in his community.   He mentored several instrument makers, such as Wayne Henderson.  His most popular fiddle tune is Hangman’s Reel.

(Photo by Martin Fox)    

The Whitetop Mountain Band continued to perform after Albert’s death, led by Kilby’s parents, Thornton and Emily Spencer, along with Tom Barr of Barr’s Fiddle Shop (a place we visited along the Crooked Road) and others.   Learn more here:  Whitetop Mountain Band.   A memorial festival is held in Albert’s honor, and also for his daughter, Audrey Hash Ham, who became a luthier and fiddler, but sadly died recently.  Kilby Spencer carries on the legacy with the band the Crooked Road Ramblers, who recently recorded their first CD (see The Crooked Road Ramblers).

Here’s a touching story as told by Albert’s daughter Audrey:  "When I was born, my daddy paid my hospital bill with a fiddle.  He walked twenty miles to do that, Fees Ridge to West Jefferson, to sell the fiddle to pay for it. And the fiddle was absolutely beautiful. It had an Indian head and a cornucopia of flowers on it.  He always teased me, as to how he could have traded a fine fiddle like that for a scrawny little runt like me.  Anyway, when I made my first fiddle, it was along about dad’s birthday, and I gave it to him for his birthday.  And he said, ‘I would rather have had that than a brand new Cadillac.’  It was a good thing because I never could have afforded one.”

Wade Ward also recorded a tune called Nancy Blevins, but I found that tune to be misnamed.  It’s actually the same as Charleston #1, written by Narmour and Smith of Mississippi.  

On a sorrowful note I learned that one of the important creators of Virginia’s Crooked Road – Joe Wilson -- died last May.  I’m grateful for the book he wrote, which includes two CDs with historic and modern recordings, A Guide to the Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. 

For those who read in the Traditional Tune Archive that Hawks and Eagles resembles the first part of Nancy Blevins, you can hear the similarity in the A part here:   Norman Edmonds playing Hawks and Eagles on Slippery Hill site.

The tune Nancy Blevins is quite short and in less than a minute I play it three times.  Its cheerful melody and steady rhythm make a good dance tune.  Here are examples, including a source recording:

Albert Hash recording on Slippery Hill site

Jason Sypher and Nancy Sluys at Mt. Airy, 2011  

Ken Elkington playing along with Jason Sypher  (This is where I first heard the tune.  You can also enjoy VancePants’ creative slide show.)

The Stairwell Sisters at 5:05 minutes into the video 

Black Twig Pickers

 Field Recorder Collective Albert Hash CD

Hope you enjoy Nancy Blevins and give her a try this week.     

Edited by - JanetB on 02/26/2016 19:21:39

Nancy Blevins

Nancy Blevins (TOTW)

Nancy Blevins (CH) tab

Jimmy Sutton - Posted - 02/26/2016:  07:13:02

Hi Janet,

Good to know that you enjoy the music of Albert. Just a small point. You mention Audrey Spencer Ham above, she was actually Audrey HASH Ham.

If you wish to know more about Albert and The Whitetop Mountain band there was an interview from 1978 with Albert, Thornton and Emily published in the UK magazine Old Time Music. It is now long out of print but if you would like to read it I could e-mail you a copy. Some of that material was used by Pamela Anderson Green in a book she did on the region.

The band which includes Kilby's multi instrumentalist sister Martha is still very busy and have another UK tour lined up for 2016. Kilby himself is also a very talented multi instrumentalist too and doing a very important job of keeping the music alive and documenting and archiving the material.

Jimmy Sutton - Posted - 02/26/2016:  08:00:39

Jimmy Sutton - Posted - 02/26/2016:  08:01:14

llrevis - Posted - 02/26/2016:  09:50:16

Great choice Janet. Nice to have a TOTW that I have heard before. The link to Ken Elkintons's version take you to the Nancy Sluys version. 

rickhayes - Posted - 02/26/2016:  14:16:05

Enjoyed the tune and the writeup Janet.

JanetB - Posted - 02/26/2016:  19:27:40

Thanks for the name correction and input, Jimmy.  Here's my email if you'd like to send me the article you mention:  You're also welcome to post it here.  I'm happy that at least one reader here is already familiar with Albert Hash's music and the legacy that's following him.  

I fixed the tab above to include the ASPO in the A part.  One other thing you might notice is that I jumped an octave in the B part when I couldn't reach the bottom notes.  Perhaps someone else will come up with another arrangement

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 02/27/2016:  02:08:06

I happened to have that book on my desk as this TOTW was being posted.  It is:


Paula Hathaway Anderson-Green, A HOT-BED OF MUSICIANS: TRADITIONAL MUSIC IN THE UPPER NEW RIVER VALLEY - WHITETOP REGION, Knoxville, The University of Tennessee Press, 2002.


Chapter 3 is: "Famous in Fiddle Making and Playing: Albert Hask of Whitetop Mountain."

Other chapters discuss Ola Belle Campbell Reed, Dave and Virgil Sturgill, Wayne Henderson and Gerald Anderson.



Jimmy Sutton - Posted - 02/27/2016:  05:15:40

Thank you Lew, my turn to be corrected. You are absolutely right I should have checked my bookshelf before posting.

I trust the Dwight Diller book is progressing well.

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 02/29/2016:  02:22:56

I took a crack at the tune on my new Bluestem Boucher-style Minstrel Banjo, by Randle Cordle, a BHO member:






canisminimus - Posted - 02/29/2016:  08:56:47

Fun tune. 

Janet, I always appreciate your scholarship and I am grateful for you generosity in providing nice, clear tab. 

Working through this one, it seems that the first and second endings for the B part are reversed. 


bhniko - Posted - 02/29/2016:  15:19:29

Always of interest...nicely interpreted as usual.

JanetB - Posted - 02/29/2016:  21:39:01

Lew, your interpretation is cool and laid-back, like your hounds.  I'm always fascinated at how we can make a tune our own and still retain its identity.  

I ordered A Hot-Bed of Musicians from amazon and look forward to having another informational resource.  It's amazing that Jimmy Sutton's interview contributed to the chapter on Albert Hash.

Thanks, Rick, Michael, and Dick for your kind comments.

And here's Lew's video in case you missed the most relaxed Nancy Blevins:


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