musical lives, remembered in story & sound
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Blanche Coldiron

Blanche Coldiron -- 1. Fond Memories


 “I never saw anyone that loved it any more than she did.”
Irene Coldiron, on her sister’s love of music
“Blanche was the only person in my life that had a passion for music as much as I did. Because of this, I spent most Sunday afternoons at her house playing music all day. It would start off with me calling down to her house and asking if she’d want to “play.” Like two kids getting ready to embark on an adventure we’d get our guitars ready and I’d take a drive two miles down the road. She’d already have a pot of beans on the stove. Sometimes we’d get so busy playing music we’d burn ‘em, but mostly we had us a heck of a meal when we were done feeding our souls with music.”
Lisa Shaffer, a musician & friend
The friends and family Blanche Hurt Coldiron left behind are filled with memories of her, the banjo player, the markswoman, the tireless mother, the firey fiddler; they told the stories eagerly, and with a chuckle.
Over the course of this year, I’ve visited with Blanche’s two children—spent an afternoon sitting on her son Jim’s living room floor, surrounded by photographs as he and his sister Sandy told me story after story, finishing each other’s sentences. I met Blanche’s sole surviving sister, Irene, 83, a woman with a faltering voice, but dear smile, living with her daughter. There was an incredible fondness in their voices, and in the voices of musicians Sue Massek and John Harrod, and in the writing of Brandon Godman and Lisa Schaefer, as they remembered Blanche. It seems, the woman left an incredible legacy of generosity and warmth, with those lives she touched.
So, what follow, are memories of a remarkable woman, who lived a life filled with great laughter, great sacrifice, and great faith, told to me with great enthusiasm.


Blanche Coldiron -- 2. Childhood Mischief

Blanche was born in 1922 in Wolfe County, Kentucky, one of five children. Irene filled me in, stories of her sister as a child: “One thing,” she said, “she was a tomboy. She liked to get out and climb trees. And I couldn’t get to the first limb. But we lived on a farm, and… She’d always make me go with her, and I’d stand at the bottom of the tree and look up at her, as she went up.”
She was a spunky girl; “She would try anything,” said Irene. One particular instance of Blanche’s sense of adventure had crept into family lore, a story told by Irene, and then by Blanche’s children.

Blanche Coldiron -- 3. Picking Up the Banjo

Blanche began playing music at a young age. “I was six, seven, eight, maybe,” she said, in an interview with John Harrod. She remembered hearing Uncle Dave Macon on Grand Old Opry broadcast on their radio, inspiring her to play. “I would listen, and try to get that sound. That’s where I learned. Didn’t have anyone to teach me.”
Powell County, at the time, was filled with musicians, picking banjos and playing fiddles; it seems, though, that Blanche never came in direct contact with any prominent older players, when she was first learning to play. Her parents didn’t play music; as she put it, they “couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket with a lid on it.”

Blanche Coldiron -- 4. The Radio Star

Shortly after, Blanche went back on the radio—broadcast in earnest, this time, as an entertainer. Blanche the Mountain Girl, she was billed, to an audience larger than her own living room.
Asa Martin, a Winchester-born guitar player, bandleader and radio personality of some local fame, was in search of a new banjo player, in 1938 for radio shows on WLAP in Lexington, and tours around central Kentucky. His previous banjo player, Stringbean Akemon, had left the Kentucky tour to play on the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, where he became one of the show’s enduring stars.

Blanche Coldiron -- 5. The Road Not Taken

For all its early success, Blanche’s career was short lived. The tour with Asa came to an end. The crowds died down; perhaps because of the war, perhaps because people wanted other forms of entertainment; perhaps because the novelty of Blanche the Mountain Girl had worn off; perhaps because her parents made her leave. The circumstances of its end are left only to speculation.
There had been another opportunity. Blanche got a call from Nashville, to follow in the footsteps of Stringbean, as her family imagines.
 But Blanche never got wind of it. Her parents never told her. It was only on his deathbed, that her brother Ossie told his sister.

Blanche Coldiron -- 6. The Young Family

Blanche returned to the family farm. Around the age of 19, married Earl Coldiron, an outgoing, confident man who’d grown up on a neighboring farm, right before he left to fight in WWII. After he’d left, she had their first daughter, Ann Carolyn.

Blanche Coldiron -- 7. The Musical Family

Her music career was set aside, busy taking care of her daughter. But theirs was a household filled with music, Jim and Sandy remembered.