born // 1919
lived // harlan county
played // banjo
sang // ballads
died // 1984
“Once you heard her, you wouldn’t forget it…. She could tear you up with…the feeling she would put into the song.” –-Guy Carawan
The video plays, a woman rocking back and forth in a rocking chair. The woman, to a crowd of people seated around her, says, “Now, I sing loud, I sing big. I sang in church, and I learned to sing big and loud, and I can’t break myself of it."
Lois was born in 1919, in Kilke, Virginia, a mining community just south of the Kentucky border, to Nanny and Willy Flannary. She was one of ten children, six girls and four boys. They grew a garden, hunted in the woods; her father tended a general store.
Of Lois’s music making, Kathleen remarked, “She didn’t start singing ‘til after your dad died.”
She did sing, in fact, but just never on a stage, never outside her home, as long as her husband lived. She sang, said Larry, “just in the kitchen, there, around the house… she didn’t travel around or anything.”
Kitchens, and front porches had been the comfortable home of banjo tunes and ballads for generations, but for Lois, that kitchen concert hall was the sign of a dream deferred, or even obstructed.
Sheridan died, in 1973. Her sons moved to Cincinnati. In her solitude, Lois found a musical renaissance. In Candie Carawan’s words, Lois “just kinda had this coming out,” musically speaking. “She really picked up the banjo again, and she just loved going out to community gatherings, or anything where she could play her banjo.”
By Lois Short
(Transcribed from a video of Lois reciting the poem, at the Highlander Center)
When I was a boy, way back on the farm,
We was always desperate poor
We slept on padding made of shuds
Laid down on the puncheon floor
And what we et, was what we growed,
We had no cakes nor pies
And the clothes I wore was my pa’s old clothes,
Cut down for to fit my size
Pa was a strapping great big man
a pushing 6 foot three