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Spotlight On Music In Appalachia - Currence and Minnie Hammonds

Currence and Minnie Hammonds 
Photo of Currence and Minnie Hammonds (by Gerry MIlnes in 1980 from the book "Play of A Fiddle" about traditional music, dance and folklore in WV)

Guest Post written by Bob Dalsemer:

In 1978-79 I spent 10 months as artist-in-residence in Randolph County, West Virginia. My job was to promote and present programs of traditional music and dance for schools and community groups. In the process I met a number of wonderful local musicians. Two of the most memorable were Currence and Minnie Hammonds of Huttonsville, WV.  They were  both born in 1898 and married in 1915, raising a family of nine children. Both came from musical families and they had a repertoire of songs that had been passed down for many generations. Currence’s cousins (who spelled their last name Hammons) and lived in neighboring Pocahontas County were the subjects of a series of documentary recordings by the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress.

I spent many happy times at Currence and Minnie’s home, visiting and being treated to their singing. They mostly sang unaccompanied in the old time ballad style that included such traditional vocal embellishments as sliding a note into falsetto at the end of a phrase. Currence also played old time clawhammer style banjo and Minnie used play too but by that time she had quit due to arthritis. They associated each song with a particular relative from whom they had learned it.

Since this is Halloween week, I’ll mention one of Currence’s favorite ballads, “Jimmy Ranvul” which has both a murder and a ghost. He told me:

“Now I always did like that one. You know the reason I always like it, my mother used to sing it. She’d sit and sing that of a night for us. In the fall you know, she’d sit spinning or knitting, singing that piece for us kids. We’d sit right there listening to her sing it. We’d make her sing it, maybe two or three times.”

There are many versions of this ballad. The Dillards had a bluegrass version called Polly Vaughn and there’s an Irish version called Molly Bawn. The young man is sometimes called Johnny Randle. The story is about a young man who goes hunting, mistakes his true love for a swan and accidentally kills her. He is arrested and about to be tried for murder when the ghost of his true love appears in court and gives exculpatory evidence.

Jimmy Ranvul
as sung by Currence Hammonds

Come all you young heroes who handles a gun
Beware of your shooting after the down sun
I’ll tell you of a circumstance that happened of late
That happened young Jimmy and his lovely maid

Jimmy was a-hunting out late in the dark
He shot Molly Bender and he missed not his mark
Well, he ran up to her and found she was dead
In front of her bosom a tear Jimmy shed.

Well he run back home again with his gun in his hand
Dearest uncle, dearest uncle, Molly Bender I’ve killed
Out stepped his old father with his locks very gray
“Stay at home its young Jimmy, do not run away.”

“Stay at home its young Jimmy, til your trial will draw near
The laws of our country will set Jimmy clear.”
The day of Jimmy’s trial her ghost did appear
With her apron pinned around her, saying “Jimmy come clear.”

You can take all these pretty girls and place them in a row
Molly Bender shone amongst them like mountains of snow
Molly Bender she’s dead and almost are gone
With her apron pinned around her, she was shot for a swan.


I hope you enjoyed Bob's post about Currence and Minnie-makes me wish I could have known them too. Since I've never heard the song before I looked for a video of Jimmy Ranvul on youtube-but didn't find one. I did find the Dillard's version Bob mentioned.

Don't it make you wish Bob had been able to video Currence's version back in 1978?


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Randy-thank you for the comment! So glad you are keeping that wonderful music alive!

Have a great week,

My Name Is Randy Hammonds,son of Harold Hammonds ,my grandparents are currence and minnie.l have growed up listen and playing the songs learned from all my uncles and grand parents. My cousins and I play the songs to help to keep the family tradition going. Thank you for sharing the memories of my family traditions

Hello my name is James Hammonds Jr. Currence and Minnie were my great grand parents. I remember as a child going to family get togethers and there were always atleast 2 or more guitars and sumtimes a banjo and maybe even a fiddle playing into the wee hours of the morning. At the age of 5 or 6 I got my first guitar and played a little but never pursued anything more then just fooling around. I am now continuing on the Hammonds musician tradition. I have been a drummer in a local Baltimore Maryland band since 1987. I am self taught and started playing drums at age 10. Although my Grandfather Delmar Hammonds or My father James Sr. did not play musical instruments. My passion for playing music most definitely was a gift passed down from Grand Pa & Grand Ma Hammonds (Currence & Minnie)

Love this kind of music. Was raised in West Virginia and grew on this kind of music. Really beautiful and brings back a lot of memories

Just stumbled on this year old blog entry... what a treat. Currence and Minnie were my great-grandparents!

Congratulations to the winners!!
I also would have liked to have known the Hammonds' and listen to them sing and play.

Great story, thanks Tipper!
Have a great weekend ...

SOO Spooky!!!

What a great story. Thanks Bob! I bet there is a story behind every old song we hear!

I always love visiting your blog. I usually learn something and come away smiling. Thanks for sharing with this California girl.

I enjoyed this post....
Advice written and sung to insure that this doesn't happen to another youth...or adult for that matter...
Measure twice cut once type of idea!...
The thought is planted in the beginning words, Come all you young heros,(whippersnappers)..
Listen up and take this warning!...No shooting your guns after dark and always be sure that you recognise the "kill" before you shoot, lest you make a regrettable, horror filled mistake!...The ending allows the shooter to go free, so to speak but still has to carry the image of the court, the ghost of Molly, and the image of the swan for life. Lesson learned!
Seems a lot of folk songs have lessons if one really listens...

Would liked to have heard the Hammonds too. A shame so much talent is taken to the grave leaving no reminders behind. Wish I had recordings of Mama's singing and other family members that have long gone. Always enjoy your posts and the memories they bring.

Interesting post by Bob Delsemer.
It just shows how much we are all
alike in Appalachia, and mostly
because of our traditional music
and folklore. Although I enjoyed
the music and especially the banjo, I had never heard it before. The Ghosts of Halloween
are still scary here in the Smokey

I used to have the Peter, Paul, and Mary Album, "In The Wind", which included Polly Vaughn. It was a favorite, as was every song on that album back in 1963.

Seems like Peter Paul and Mary did a version of Jimmie Ranvul.

I certainly enjoyed Bob Dalsemer's article and writing. I know many wonderful musicians, many unheralded, came from that region of West Virginia. And the list of well-known artists is a long one, especially when considering the close-in Virginia and Eastern Kentucky parts of the region. I wish I could have heard the Hammonds. I know Alan Lomax tried to save and record the music of Appalachia back in the Thirties.

I was born not too far from there, near Welch, over in McDowell County and one of my favorite pieces is Jeff Pressley's "West Virginia Memories".

Thanks for sharing this - it is a shame the Hammond were not recorded singing this. I managed to find a few versions of Polly Vaughn and Molly Bawn, an Irish version in iTunes.
Thanks again!

Tipper--As was the case with you, this ballad was new to me. I'm delighted to learn about it, thanks to the fine guest post. I've spent a bit of time in West Virginia and find the folks there closer to the folkways of residents of the southwestern N. C. than people anywhere I have been.
I'm tickled pink to be among the cd winners of the Blind Pig giveaway, and you'll get my 10 choices forthwith.
Jim Casada

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