The folk singer Elizabeth LaPrelle joined NPR’s On Point Wednesday to perform an Appalachian ballad from a Grammy-nominated album, and to speak about what it means today.
“West Virginia Mine Disaster” is a song originally written by the legendary singer Jean Ritchie, who died in 2015. LaPrelle's version is included in an album called “Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition.”
“I think this song and other songs of Jean Ritchie's show us that even the creation of new songs, the tradition is not over,” LaPrelle told guest host John Harwood. “Not even close.”
You can listen to LaPrelle’s performance of the beautiful, haunting song here:
Full show: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition
On our show Wednesday, we explored the rich tradition of story-songs in Appalachia.
"West Virginia Mine Disaster" is a song about “something that's still happening, really, which is the safety of people in Appalachia being in jeopardy because of coal mining,” LaPrelle said.
Ballads were like newscasts, to tell stories about the way we lived. Those lessons continue today, LaPrelle said.
“The old songs find a lot of relevance and a lot of resonance to me,” LaPrelle said. “When I hear a song about an old problem I relate it really quickly to a new problem, whether that's something as simple as heartbreak or something a lot more complex.”
This segment aired on January 17, 2018. The audio for this segment is not available.