Music of Coal, from Cape Breton to SWVA

Coalfield Progress, Norton, VA, February 2007

Most people will not know that the first commercial coal mines in North America were opened in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia around 1720. Towns like Inverness and Glace Bay, Nova Scotia were not too different than the coal-camps of Jenkins, Ky. or Appalachia, Va., including the cycles of “bust and boom” that shaped the economies and the cultures of these communities.

On Feb. 5 and 6, audiences in Whitesburg, Ky. and Big Stone Gap will have the rare opportunity to hear a concert of coal mining songs and music featuring, Men of the Deeps from Cape Breton, N.S. and local artists from the Music of Coal CDs produced by Lonesome Pine Office on Youth in Big Stone Gap.

Featured artists will include Roadside Theater’s veteran performer Ron Short, young and gifted singer Molly Slemp, along with talented father/son duo Rick and Chris Saenz.

Men of the Deeps is a choir of working and retired coal miners from the island of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Canada. Organized in 1966, the group’s inception was an effort by the people in Cape Breton to preserve in song the rich culture and folklore of Cape Breton’s coal mining communities.

The choir has performed all over the globe to wildly enthusiastic audiences, but rarely will their concert have greater resonance then here in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia.

The 2 CD collection, “Music of Coal: Mining Songs from the Appalachian Coalfields,” produced by the Lonesome Pine Office on Youth, breaks new ground musically and historically by producing one of the most complete histories of coal mining in song. And, most importantly, the two CDs feature songs written and sung by coal miners, their children and grandchildren.

Many of the featured artists, ranging in ages 13 to 90, have lived through the events they sing about. They are makers and inheritors of the legacy of coal mining. And, they are makers and inheritors of the legacy of Appalachian music which continues to grow; nearly half the songs on the CDs are new songs, never before heard.

On Feb. 5, Men of the Deeps and artists from Music of Coal will perform at the Letcher County Central High School in Whitesburg. Music of Coal will begin at 6 p.m. and Men of the Deeps will take the stage at 7 p.m.

On Feb. 6th, Music of Coal and Men of the Deeps will be appearing at Mountain Empire Community College’s Goodloe Center in Big Stone Gap starting at 6:30 p.m. and Men of the Deeps at 7:30 p.m.

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“Article: Music of Coal, from Cape Breton to SWVA.” August 27, 2014.

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