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The story behind Black Mountain Lullaby

I saw a comment last night on Facebook - from Silas House.

"Eight years ago today, three year-old Jeremy Davidson was killed in his own bed in Appalachia, VA when a half-ton boulder--dislodged by a dozer cutting an illegal road at 2:30 in the morning on an MTR site--crashed through the exterior wall of the Davidson trailer, two interior walls, and came to rest on Jeremy's bed. He was an Appalachian child...". 

I thought it fitting to mention it here because it was Silas, in a way, who brought my attention to Jeremy Davidson in the first place. On February 19, 2011, Silas wrote an op-ed in the New York Times entitled "My Polluted Kentucky Home." And this was the last paragraph:

"As a child I once stood on a cedar-pocked ridge with my father, looking down on a strip mine near the place that had been our family cemetery. My great-aunt’s grave had been “accidentally” buried under about 50 feet of unwanted topsoil and low-grade coal; “overburden,” the industry calls it. My father took a long, deep breath. I feel that I’ve been holding it ever since."

Last March I participated in The Cecil Sharp Project, a life-changing collaboration between myself, one Canadian, and six folks from the UK in a Shropshire farmhouse. The English Folk Song and Dance Society & The Shrewsbury Folk Festival invited us to work for six days and then present a body of work based on Cecil Sharp, the famed English folk song and dance collector who spent the better part of three years in Appalachia collecting over 2,000 versions of English folks songs which transported themselves to the United States.

I did not go with any preconceived ideas, but I had just read Silas' essay when I went to the farmhouse. Quickly we all realized that ours was a herculean task, and immediately we racked our brains for any leads. I thought of the essay, and of the plight of Appalachia, and of mountaintop removal, and how Jeremy's story seemed to fit right in with the ballads that real people sang and sing about life's hardships. The English ballad tradition is brutal - they are afraid of nothing when it comes to subject matter - and I can see now why certain song traditions are so important to people. Songs help people survive. As a mother of young children, I wondered if songs had helped Jeremy's mother survive.

The Project group immediately embraced my song idea about Jeremy Davidson and mountaintop removal, and Kathryn Roberts even found a lullaby song fragment from one of Sharp's collection. The next day we had a song: Black Mountain Lullaby. I wrote the verses, but it happened because of the urgency of the project (and because Silas quickly answered his emails, guiding me to newspaper articles). It is a terribly sad song, but ends with a mother bracing herself against life's cruelty by celebrating the memory of her son.

The 'Sharpies', as we call ourselves, decided that we should sing this song on the BBC in London when we went in for the full interview. You can hear that interview on my music page under The Cecil Sharp Project BBC 3 Radio 'In Tune" interview. Two of the members of the group told me they thought this song was the most important thing we did all week. I humbly agree.

I wonder, do we exploit people, and situations, when we write about their tragedies? I've worried about that with Jeremy Davidson, and i think the folks who fight against mountaintop removal in Appalachia worry about it, too. I, we, wrote this song tenderly, and with respect for Jeremy's family and for his life. I think we honor him. And I think we honor the sanctity of life when we care enough about it to fight against injustice. I have never been prouder of a song than I am of this one.

See the video:

Cecil Sharp Project:

BBC 3 In Tune Interview (under Cecil Sharp Project)

The Cecil Sharp Project singing Meadows of Dan (view HERE)
(Sharp's first visit to Appalachia was to Meadows of Dan, Virginia in 1916)

Articles about the death of Jeremy Davidson, mountaintop removal and me:


Published in THE COALFIELD PROGRESS, Norton, Virginia, April 29, 2011

A brief mention of a Wise County tragedy in a New York Times editorial resulted in the composition of a haunting song that stirs memories of a dark day in 2004 and connects it to the long tradition of Appalachian ballads. On Aug. 20, 2004, three-year-old Jeremy Kyle Davidson was asleep in his bed in the Inman community when a halfton boulder dislodged by a bulldozer widening a mine site road crashed through the side of his parents Dennis and Cindy Davidson’s home, killing the child.

Read the full article HERE


Gather round my table

Say grace with me

In my little trailer

In the mountains of Wise County

Grief is mine forever

Sadness my story

Down in Inman Hollow

In the mountains of Wise County

Bye baby baby bye

little baby bye bye

Mountaintops are made of

1,000 pound boulders

that roll down the hills

and on to our shoulders

Lord, let me bear it

for safe keeping

Lord, let me shield it

From my dearest Jeremy

Bye baby baby bye

little baby bye bye

Mama will rock you

til you’re sleeping

Angels will hold you

in their keeping

Powerful men will

make their money

Your name will live here

in the mountains of Wise County

Bye baby baby bye

little baby bye bye

My little baby bye bye.

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Reader Comments (1)

IT's removal after all and nobody could really say what is the feeling to shoot someone because no one wants to talk about that And that's why this is so difficult and we should respect them. With those new gun holeders I hope things change for good and I really hope there is a difference. Even TSD Police and https://inboxremovals.com/.com hope for that.

July 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJames Stewart

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