INDEX     PHS  NEWS                 JAN - MAR    2014      

Where is Penland, North Carolina?

Penland, North Carolina is in Mitchell County, sixty miles from Asheville and sixty miles from Johnson City, Tennessee.   It is on the C.C.&O. Railroad which connects with the Southern Railroad at Marion, North Carolina, at Spartanburg, South Carolina and at Johnson City, Tennessee.  
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             Valerie Sophia Penland
        "Miracle Baby "  -- One year old on 5 January
                                                  You will recall that last year
                                                   we reported the unusual
                                                   birth of Valerie Sophia                                                              Penland   She was born by                                                       emergency C-section at 24                                                      weeks to save her mother,
                                                   Rachel's life.   Weighing                                                           only 21 ounces, she was                                                          not expected to live, but                                                           she fought hard to prove                                                          everyone wrong!  And she                                                        has!!   At one year of age,                                                         she has gained almost 20                                                         pounds and has passed                                                            every medical test for                                                               things that can, and do,                                                            happen to many premature babies!   Since her arrival, God has protected, and blessed Valerie and all those who love her.   Her developing  personality is an absolute delight!  She loves her Mom & Dad {Rachel & David} !   Her grandparents, Michael & Kimberly Penland of Alexandria, Virginia and great grandparents Charles & Phyllis Penland of San Antonio are so proud of her, and thank the Good Lord for blessing their lives with this "Miracle little girl"!!
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                                                 JOE  PENLAND
      {Ballad singer, Marshall, NC -Madison County}
Joe Penland's Madison County family includes many old-time mountain musicians.
His great-grandmother was a first cousin of Bascom Lamar Lunsford.  "When I was
twelve," he remembers, "my Aunt Mamie lent me an old Gibson guitar that had
belonged to my maternal grandfather, William Henry Wright.   He was reported to
be a wonderful musician and singer.   He played many instruments and demanded
that his children learn and perform at churches where he taught shape note singing
and preached revivals.   My mother's other sister, Aunt Marie, showed me some
simple chords and taught me to play 'The Old Time Religion.' She played guitar in
what she called the 'old brogan way,' similar to the Carter Family thumb and brush.  After that I was obsessed and would go down to the Home Electric and Furniture Store in Marshall and sit with musicians who would gather there to  pick."

A couple of years later, Penland and a friend took to visiting Lee and Berzilla Wallin,
who lived on Crane Branch, "about as far up the holler as you could go and not be someplace else."   At the Wallins' home, Penland an d his friend heard old stories
and love songs ("and they knew a passel of them"), enjoyed the meals that Berzilla
would make on her wood cook-stove, and were terrorized by their ferocious pet

"When I was sixteen I got a job at the local radio station and was exposed to lots of
music I hadn't heard before.  I worked afternoons after school, and had a rock and
roll show and a final evening show of orchestral and big band music.  I also
worked on Sundays, when we would have live preaching and singing interspersed
with recorded gospel.  So you see, the kind of music didn't matter as long as there
was music.  I started writing songs when I was in college and after that the military.
I had hoped that I would play the bistro circuit when I got out, but I fell in love, got
married and had a family instead."

Penland's family life helped him stay in touch with his roots in Madison County's
traditional music.  "My first wife was Dellie Norton's granddaughter, and we spent
a lot of time up at her house singing and playing cards with Dellie.   Dellie could
make wine out of about anything, so that sort of kept things lively.   My second
wife's uncle was Byard Ray, the great fiddler.  All the folks were glad to share the
stories and music with us.  Byard was very keen on helping young people learn to

"Three years ago, I had a bout with a life-threatening illness.  I sat down and made
a list of the things I hoped to accomplish in my life.  One thing on the list was to
record my memories of the 'love songs' for my children and grandchildren.  
Grandfather Wright died when my mother was thirteen, and so often I have wished
that I could have heard his voice and the music he made."   

What started as a family project led to an album, Standing on Tradition, a concert
and festival tour of England, and the launching of a performing career.   Penland is
now at work on three new albums-----On Shaky Ground, an album of original songs
and traditional ballads.   At the Little Flower, recordings of religious music from the
Church of the Little Flower in Sodom, and The Mary Sands Project, a recording of
songs that Mary Sands sang for Cecil Sharpe, a project with his own family and a
relative of Sands.   Penland sings and tells stories at venues all over the east coast.
In 2005, he was given the award named for his singing kinsman, Mar's Hill's Bascom
Lamar Lunsford Award, for his contribution to the preservation of mountain music
and culture.