This album features the singing of Eunice Yeatts McAlexander (1909-1990), of Meadows of Dan, Patrick County, Virginia. I recorded Eunice in the spring of 1974 but was not the first or last to visit her. Folklorist Arthur Kyle Davis, Jr. collected songs from Eunice in 1932 and included several in his Folk Songs of Virginia (1949). Following me were Kip Lornell (1976), Wally Macnow (1978), Mike Yates (1979-80), and Julie Henigan (1985), and together over time we were able to capture the full range of her considerable repertoire. Our recordings, along with those early ones by Prof. Davis, are shared with you here. I think I speak for all of us in saying that meeting Mrs. McAlexander and hearing her perform these folk songs and ballads, many of them centuries old, was an experience we shall not likely forget.
Eunice Yeatts was born in 1909 just south of Meadows of Dan, in the Mayberry Section of Patrick County. Both her mother, Edna Reynolds, and father, John Henry Yeatts, were singers, and Eunice learned a great deal from them. Edna would often sing of a morning while making breakfast. John Henry was shy about his voice but, as Eunice would say, “really let his lungs out” when out by himself. Another important influence was her good friend Ruby Bowman (Plemmons), of nearby Laurel Fork. Eunice mentioned one song in particular that came from Ruby, and this was Massie Grove. Edna wouldn’t sing it for Eunice, because of the licentious subject matter. But Ruby’s mother, again in Eunice’s words, “was less conventional” and would, so it passed from Ruby to Eunice. In singing the ballad for me, Eunice was still a bit hesitant, and interestingly changed the line in stanza six from “they went home a hugging and a kissing” to “a laughing and a talking.” There are some things you don’t sing about to a male stranger!
Although Meadows of Dan during most of her life was a remote rural hamlet, Eunice was very much part of the modern world. She attended boarding school at the Central Academy outside Stuart and earned a “normal certificate” (a teaching degree) from the nearby State Teachers College at Radford (which is where Prof. Davis found her). Her husband, Elkanah McAlexander, worked for the state highway department, while Eunice taught at the Meadows of Dan elementary school. Keenly aware of the venerable nature of her songs, Eunice was quick to remind me that they endured through the generations not only because they were “good stories,” but also because they contained lessons. I asked if a moral came along with them, but “No,” she said, everyone would have to “draw their own conclusions.” That is now the task for all of us.
Liner notes for “Far in the Mountains”FITM-Mike on Eunice-combined