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Aunt Molly Jackson


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Susan A-R 23 Jan 99 - 07:12 PM
Joe Offer 23 Jan 99 - 07:35 PM
Anne 23 Jan 99 - 07:49 PM
Sandy Paton 23 Jan 99 - 08:50 PM
Barry Finn 24 Jan 99 - 01:11 PM
Sandy Paton 24 Jan 99 - 07:58 PM
Anne 27 Jan 99 - 05:52 PM
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Subject: Aunt Molly Jackson
From: Susan A-R
Date: 23 Jan 99 - 07:12 PM

I'm looking for biographical info on Aunt Molly Jackson. Also am wondering if anyone knows whether she wrote the words to "Dreadful Memories?" Thanks. I know I can count on good stuff.


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Subject: RE: Aunt Molly Jackson
From: Joe Offer
Date: 23 Jan 99 - 07:35 PM

Hi, Susan - here's what I found in the All-Music Guide:
Aunt Molly Jackson was not only an old-time country singer/songwriter who spent much of her career trying to preserve the traditional mountain folksongs of her native Kentucky, she was also influential in the struggle for miners' rights during the '20s and '30s. She was born Mary Magdalene Garland in Clay County, Kentucky. When she was only six, her mother starved to death; she married at 14 and then watched as the coalmines killed her brother, husband and son. Shortly thereafter, Jackson began to express her grief and anger by writing songs such as "Poor Miner's Farewell" and "Dishonest Miller." Through the 1920s, Jackson continued to work for miners' rights; in 1931, she went to New York and recorded a single containing "Kentucky Miner's Wife." She relocated to New York to continue her fight, befriending other musicians on the New York folk scene including Woody Guthrie. In 1935, folklorists Alan Lomax and Mary Barnicle convinced Jackson to record 150 songs for the Library of Congress, which took her four years. After appearing with Leadbelly and Josh White in the Cavalcade of American Song in 1940, Jackson eventually settled in California, where she lived until the folk revival of the late '50s. Her music was an important part of that revival, although Aunt Molly never received a single dime in royalties for the protest songs she had written. In 1960, impoverished and nearly forgotten, Jackson was working on an autobiographical LP with John Greenway when she died suddenly. During the 1970s, some of the songs she recorded for the Library of Congress were released on a Rounder anthology. -- Sandra Brennan, All-Music Guide
I understand Aunt Molly Jackson spent at least some of her final years here in Sacramento. she had some sort of chest injury that made it difficult for her to sing.
-Joe Offer-

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Subject: RE: Aunt Molly Jackson
From: Anne
Date: 23 Jan 99 - 07:49 PM

Dear Susan: I too am a fan of Aunt Molly Jackson. A couple of summers ago I took a humanities course at Smith College which combined music and literature to tell the working class story. Also, my father was a coal miner in PA so the subject was personally interesting. At this time I found a recording called The Long Memory which showcases Rosalie Sorrels and U. Utah Phillips singing workers anthems. Rosalie starts the CD with a spoken-word piece written by Aunt Molly that defines Folk Music. This CD remains one of My Favorite and I highly recommend it. Great Idea for a posting! Also, researching Aunt Molly led me to the story Of Mother Mary Jones who was a real activist for the miners. Anne

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Subject: RE: Aunt Molly Jackson
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 23 Jan 99 - 08:50 PM

Shelly Romalis has just published Pistol Packin' Mama, Aunt Molly Jackson and the Politics of Folksong (University of Illinois Press), a biography of Aunt Molly. I see that it's available from in paperback for around $16. The hardcover edition, sadly, is fairly expensive.

As for the song "Dreadful Memories," I understand that it was actually written by Sarah Ogan Gunning, Aunt Molly's sister, who also wrote "Girl of Constant Sorrow." Sarah was recorded by Archie Green for Folk-Legacy, and the recording is still available as one of our custom cassettes. Sarah died a few years ago in Detroit.

I was taken by Barry Olivier to meet Aunt Molly in Sacramento in 1957. She was still quite active then, and appeared to thoroughly enjoy the devoted attention of a young (then) male folkie, namely me. Gave me a great big hug when we parted. I felt honored.


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Subject: RE: Aunt Molly Jackson
From: Barry Finn
Date: 24 Jan 99 - 01:11 PM

A brief aside. Rounder released in 1984 an LP (#4012) called "They'll Never Keep Us Down- Women's Coal Mining Songs" although there's nothing on it by Aunt Molly there are a number of other gems. Barry

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Subject: RE: Aunt Molly Jackson
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 24 Jan 99 - 07:58 PM

I thought you might find Archie Green's note regarding Sarah Ogan Gunning's recording of "Dreadful Memories" interesting. I'll quote it in full:

In 1952, when John Greenway visited Aunt Molly Jackson at Sacramento, California, she sang for him a poignant song modeled on the familiar hymn "Precious Memories." Molly placed the date of composition as 1935 and the "experience" as 1931. It was an exciting find for the folklorist, since Molly had not given this piece to previous collectors Alan Lomax or Mary Elizabeth Barnicle in the 1930s. Greenway used "Dreadful Memories" in American Folksongs of Protest and recorded it twice. Consequently, I was pleased and surprised to collect it from Sarah in 1963, for she generally eschewed her half-sister's material. Sarah told me that she composed the song in New York about 1938 and that Molly "learned it from her" when the Gunnings visited California during World War II. There is no question in my mind as to the veracity of Sarah's statement (although to document my belief would require an analysis of Aunt Molly Jackson longer than this brochure). Here it can be said that folksong students are in debt to the two sisters for this excellent example of variation within a single family tradition.

I assume that most of those who are drawn to this thread will be familiar with Archie Green. He is probably the nation's leading authority on labor folklore, author of Only a Miner and several other important studies. I would be inclined to accept his assessment, although I have yet to read Shelly's study and don't know what new evidence she may have turned up.


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Subject: RE: Aunt Molly Jackson
From: Anne
Date: 27 Jan 99 - 05:52 PM

Sandy: Thanks for the info on Archie Green. I am newly drawn to this subject and I appreciate all education. Never assume, always share. I appreciate it and you never Know when you're eduating someone. Many Thanks! Anne

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