I were tellin’ some mount’n stories

Posted by | March 16, 2017

Jane Gentry — piano teacher, Appalachian folk-music historian, weaver — was an inspiration for the movie Songcatcher.

She was born Jane Hicks in 1863, the first child of Ransom and Emily Hicks, in Watauga County, NC. “My pappy were a minister, name of Ransom Hicks. Mammy were always peckin’ me over the head with a stick. She were turrible ill and cross, pore woman! I were that foundered with the peckin’ that I declar’d that I would never whup ef God sent me childern. You’ll whup as much into `em as you whup out o’ em.”

And later, Jane said of her life growing up, “Twere like a three-legged cat’s. They didn’t show me till I were nine yur old. I used to walk miles and miles bar’foot in the snow.” She was twelve years old when the family moved to the Meadow Fork section of Spring Creek in Madison County. At sixteen, Hicks married Jasper Newton Gentry, though her parents were against the marriage because of her age. Around 1912, the Gentry family bought ‘Sunnybank’ in the town of Hot Springs, moving there so that their nine children could attend Dorland Institute, a Presbyterian mission school.

Jane Hicks GentryIrving Bacheller, New York newspaper editor and author of books, short stories and magazine articles, (his novel Eben Holden, published in 1900, outsold The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, To Have and To Hold, and other popular books of that year) met Jane Gentry in April 1914 when he came to Hot Springs on vacation.

“I could hear voices as I came near the house,” he recounted in his novel, The Tower of a Hundred Bells (1916), “and chiefly those of young children laughing as if at play. Then I heard the kindly voice of Mrs. Gentry. She sat on her little verandah sewing with a number of small children grouped around her. She was amusing them as she worked.”

“Go on with your story telling,” I pleaded. “I am a child myself as young as any of these.”

“I were tellin’ some mount’n stories,” she answered. “It mout be they’d tickle ye. So if you’ll be one o’ the young uns, set down thar an’ I’ll scratch around an’ see what I kin fetch out o’ my ol’ brains.”

I took the chair she offered and sat down with a girl of four on my lap while Mrs. Gentry opened a mine of old mountain folk lore which delighted me.

“Well here comes:
Eight humly, bumly bees,
Seven humpity, crumpity no horn cows,
Six hicketty, ficketty, custards,
Five bob-tail, bald-face, skewball nags,
Four colly birds,
Two ducks and an ol’ fat rooster.”

Cecil Sharp, founder of The English Folk Dance and Song Society in England, and its American counterpart, the Country Dance Society in the United States, sought Jane out. Sharp visited her home on at least eight separate occasions and was clearly welcome there. He collected more songs from Jane (70) than from any other singer in the ‘Laurel Country.’ Many of the songs were those she sang for children, such as “Sing Said the Mother,” “Froggie He Would A-Wooing Go,” “The Farm Yard,” and “There’s Nothing to be Gained by Roving.” He included forty of her songs in English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians (1932).

Jane Gentry’s stories received as much attention as her songs. Mrs. Isabel Gordon Carter visited her in 1923 and did the first collecting of Jack Tales, as told to Jane by her grandfather, Council Harmon (“Old Counce”), in which Jack is the third son, left behind when his brothers seek adventure. Fifteen of these tales, which Jane called “old Jack, Will and Tom tales,” were published as “Mountain White Folk-Lore: Tales from the Southern Blue Ridge,” in the March 1925 Journal of American Folk-Lore. Jane Gentry died two months later, on May 29.

sources: findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2386/is_1_113/ai_86063336


Jane Hicks Gentry: A Singer Among Singers, by Betty N. Smith, Univ Press of Kentucky, 1998

8 Responses

  • Linda Maye says:

    I am so pleased to see this article. Jane Hicks Gentry is my great grandmother via her son Roy Gentry and his daughter, my mother, Wildagail Gentry (Marshall). What wonderful history… I have been researching the Gentry’s and have visited Hot Springs. So again, this is just a wonderful extra bit of information.

  • Ronald Dean Gentry says:

    I, too, was glad to see the article. Jane Hicks Gentry was my great grandmother. My grandfather was Alfred Gentry, brother to Roy Gentry. I have been trying to find a way to get a copy of the 1925, #38, American Journal of Folklore.

  • Linda Maye says:

    Ronald Dean Gentry! I am doing family tree research adn I will try to locate you! Amazing who small the world can be when yet it is so big! Linda Maye

  • Ronald Dean Gentry says:

    How are you connected to Grandma Jane? There is another distant relative here in Franklin — we visited him one New Year’s about 3 yrs ago. He is a singer and some songwriters from Nashville were there also. We enjoyed our visit, but really had nothing in common wih him except “blood” Treated us very nice tho. Last nme is Harmon — forget his first.

  • Linda Maye says:

    Jane was my great grandmother. Roy Gentry was her son and my grandfather. His daughter is Wildagail Marshall and she is my mother. Is your father William? I have done quite a great deal of family research and still so tickled to know you are out there! I live in GA and know so little about family roots, but I am getting there. Such grand stories I am gathering. I would love to know who you met in Franklin. Our family is so rich with music… best regards to my second cousin! How fun!! All my love, Linda Gail And yes, the Harmon’s are on Grandma Jane’s side of the family. Some very lovely stories those Harmon folks. You can contact me at lgmaye@gmail.com I so hesitate to put that out there, but curiosity is getting the better of me! Hope to hear from you.

  • Mary Ellen says:

    Ron and Linda,
    I’ve always wondered what happened to Doc’s kids? Do either of you know. I’m a grand daughter of Emma’s – Jane’s daughter. So all 3 of us are great grandchildren of hers!
    Mary Ellen

  • Donna Potter says:

    Mary Ellen, I hope you receive this post. Not quite sure how it works from a website.
    Doc (William Ransom) Hicks was my great grand-father. One of his middle children was my grand-father Hawley (William Hawley) Hicks. Doc brought his entire family from near Hot Springs to Marion NC to work in the textile factories. My grand-father’s generation have now passed away, but we still get together the first Saturday of August at Nebo First Baptist Church in the Fellowship Hall. Come and meet your cousins sometime.

    Donna Potter

  • Alan Hicks says:

    Mary Ellen,I am Doc’s grandson. The youngest son of Marion, Doc’s youngest. Dad past away 4 years ago and was the last survivng child.

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