from “The End of a Long Song?” by Tony Scherman and http://www.blueridgeheritage.com:
Sheila Kay Adams is the seventh-generation bearer of her family’s two-hundred-year-old ballad-singing tradition, and is the mother and teacher of the eighth generation. Her own teachers were her great-aunt Dellie Norton, cousin Cass Wallin, and other kinfolks in the Wallin, Chandler, Norton, Ramsey, and Ray families of Sodom, North Carolina, who have so long been admired by ballad singers and collectors. In 1998, folklorist Dan Patterson wrote in the North Carolina Folklore Journal that “These families have made Sodom famous, out of all proportion to its size.” The tiny community is a giant in fostering the folk traditions of North Carolina.
What was it about Madison county, NC, that made it such fertile ground for ballads? For author/singer/storyteller Sheila Kay Adams, it wasn’t Madison County per se, but Sodom, where she was born and remains, that nurtured the ballads so well.
“If you talk about Madison County preserving the love songs (another southern mountain term for ballads),” says Adams, “it was mainly Sodom. Because people in Sodom stayed put. My however-many-greats-back grandfather Norton got a land grant in the eighteenth century and we’ve been right there ever since. People in other communities moved around, left Madison County, came back, whatever. In Sodom, people never moved.”
When I talked to Lee Wallin’s son Doug at the Wallins’ Craine Branch cabin way back in ‘84, he gave me the same answer. “Well, I guess it’s really because there’s so many people from the old countries that settled right in here. And a lot of them stayed and didn’t move out.”
Why not? “Love of family,” says Adams. “In my community, everyone was family. There wasn’t anybody else. That was it. Gosnells, Gunters, Nortons, Wallins, Chandlers, Sheltons, Rices, Rays—when Cecil Sharp (song collector and author of English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians) talked about the Laurel section, that’s us. Everyone he mentions, I’m related to.