Posts Tagged ‘Tom Dula’

Frank Proffitt and Tom Dula

May 3, 2012


In 1958, a new song called “Tom Dooley” meant a national hit for the Kingston Trio. For Frank Noah Proffitt, it meant that part of his heritage had suddenly been launched into national fame. Born to Wiley Proffitt and Rebecca Creed Proffitt on June 1, 1913, in Laurel Bloomery, Tennessee, Frank moved to and grew up in Pick Britches, now known as Mountain Dale, at the foot of Stone Mountain in Watauga County. He learned how to make banjos and dulcimers from his father.

Wiley Proffitt was not the only family member who taught young Frank folk songs and instrument-making. Frank learned traditional folk songs from his aunt, Nancy Prather, and from his father-in-law, Nathan Hicks, who also made dulcimers. His grandmother, Adeline Perdue, who lived in Wilkes County during the Tom Dula trial, taught Frank “Tom Dula.” According to family legend, she saw Tom riding in a coffin, and as he strolled down the street to his hanging, he sang a song–the same song she taught her grandchildren.

As a family man, Frank made his living growing tobacco and strawberries and making instruments as his father and father-in-law had done. One day in 1937 a couple from New York named Warner visited them to buy one of Nathan Hicks’ dulcimers. The man, Frank Warner, was particularly interested in learning Appalachian folk songs, and Nathan sang some of the ones he knew. The next year, when Frank Proffitt was visiting his father-in-law, Frank and Anne Warner returned, and Proffitt sang “Tom Dula” for them.

“His eyes sparkled as I sing Tom Dooley to him and told him of my Grandmaw Proffitt knowing Tom and Laura. I walked on air for days after they left,” Frank said about Frank Warner’s visit.

The Warners used one of the first battery operated recorders to capture the songs Frank sang for them.

What happened after that visit sparked the eventual recording that made the Kingston Trio famous. (more…)


The Ballad of Tom Dooley

January 18, 2012


Award-winning author Sharyn McCrumb has just released her latest historical fiction, “The Ballad of Tom Dooley,” (Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martins Press), which tells the true story behind the celebrated folk song.

McCrumb is best known for her Appalachian ‘ballad’ novels, including the New York Times best sellers ‘The Ballad of Frankie Silver’ and ‘She Walks These Hills,’ and for ‘St. Dale,’ winner of a Library of Virginia Award and featured at the National Festival of the Book. In 2008 Sharyn McCrumb was named a Virginia Woman of History for Achievement in Literature.

View previous “Tom Dula” post here.

Tom Dula

October 12, 2011

Thomas C. Dula (June 22, 1845 – May 1, 1868) was a former Confederate soldier, who was tried,convicted, and hanged for the murder of his fiancée, Laura Foster. The trial and hanging received national publicity from newspapers such as The New York Times, thus turning Dula’s story into a folk legend.  A local poet named Thomas Land wrote a song about the tragedy shortly after Dula was hanged. This, combined with the widespread publicity the trial received, further cemented Dula’s place in North Carolina legend. The song written by Land is still sung today throughout North Carolina.

Several recordings were made of the song in the twentieth century, with the first in 1929 by Grayson and Whitter.  The most popular version was recorded by The Kingston Trio in 1958.  It sold over 6 million copies, an is widely credited with starting the “folk boom” of the 60s.

The song “Tom Dooley” also migrated to the Caribbean in the late 50’s, and was beautifully interpreted by the mento band, “The Hiltonaires.”