musical lives, remembered in story & sound

Blanche Coldiron -- 11. The End

Blanche’s music career “sort of matched the rise and fall of her own life. I think music was her lifeline. Whether she was performing, or sitting in her living room by herself, it was still her lifeline.” Sue and John, aided by the growing number of projects and festivals they and their peers were involved in gave them the chance, Sue said, to “get us into her living room, and it also helped us get her out of her own.”

For Sue, and her band, active feminists and musicians, Blanche’s story was one of missed opportunity. Blanche told her story, Sue said “with great sadness for the road not taken. At least, that was my interpretation,” one different from that expressed from Blanche’s children who described a woman without regrets. Sue continued, “She felt like she got cheated out of something really important. I think that once you start performing, that it’s really hard to let go of it. I think that as she was growing up, she was clearly aware that her dreams were crushed because she was a woman. Because that wouldn’t have happened, had it been one of her brothers. She understood that that had completely altered the course of her life. And she didn’t have too many people she could complain to that about.” Complain she did, Sue said, to her.
Regardless, Blanche’s second career was one much celebrated. In 2005, she was honored with the Appalachian Treasure Award given annually by Morehead State University to individuals whose work and prominence in an artistic field shows a “devotion to the preservation of their craft and willingness to share it with others.”
She went to Morehead, to receive the award, wanting to play one tune, upon receiving her award. “But… she was already hurtin’ bad, and we got a banjo on her hand… you could see it in her face. She was just drained.” It was a big crowd, Sandy said, and she told them she just wouldn’t play. “I think she was afraid… ‘cause she would make a mistake.” But receive the award, she did.
Her health, at that point, was on a serious decline. She was sick much of the time, and had an increasingly difficult time travelling, and playing shows, though she wanted to, badly. “A lot of people didn’t really get to hear her probably at her best or when she was really feeling good,” Jim said, the time in her younger days when she “could really cut loose.”
In 2005, she broke two vertebrates in her back; a procedure to fix it proved unsuccessful, leaving her in pain, and on serious painkillers. She stayed in the hospital for three months, and passed away on the 20th of November. She passed away, later that year.
There are, luckily, many recordings of Blanche, available to the public. Home recordings made by her family, have been recently digitized at the Berea College Archives, as well as recordings from concerts at Appalshop, and the Kentucky Folklife Center.
On those recordings, you can hear Blanche’s laugh for yourself. And some of her wisdom “I read in some books that some people write that don’t know beans with their heads in a sack. You know there is a lot of stuff written that don’t hold true. There is!,” she told her listeners, laughing. “Everybody’s got a right to their own opinion, you know,” she said.
Blanche was a curious woman, who kept herself informed about the world around her. She was an optimist, when it came to people; “she could read a person, but she mostly wanted to look for their good qualities,” said Jim, a trait Blanche got from her mom. “I never heard mom talk [bad] about anybody. And she told us to forgive, you know. She was just a good woman, a good musician, just all around.”
“When Blanche passed,” Sue said, “I really imagined her going back to her childhood home, in the gorge. And most of the stories that I think really reflected Blanche without all the trouble that came in her life, came from roaming through the hills and the hollers and sitting on rocks playing music.”
Blanche left behind a sister, two children, five grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, and the musicians she inspired.