The Crooked Road: A Family Thing
One of the most important recording sessions in American music history took place in Bristol. The year was 1927, and Ralph Peer, Recording Director for the Victor Talking Machine Company, had been convinced by one of his recording stars, a fellow from Fries, Virginia by the name of Pop Stoneman, that there was enough talent in the area to make a recording trip worthwhile.
That historic recording session has been called the "Big Bang of Country Music". Pop Stoneman and his wife, Hattie were the first to record in the hotel with Mr. Peer. Over the following days the original Carter Family (A.P, Sara, and Maybelle) recorded their first cuts, followed a few days later by yodler Jimmie Rogers. Although the music had been around for a long time, Bristol has the right to call itself the "Birthplace of Country Music" due to this historic session.
Ernest Van "Pop" Stoneman was born May 25, 1893 near Monarat (Iron Ridge), Carroll County, Virginia. The son of a lay preacher and his singer wife, Pop Stoneman took to music at an early age. His mother died when he was three years old and he was raised by his father and two musical cousins. He learned to play many instruments as a youngster but took a special interest in the Autoharp.
Pop Stoneman played for the amusement of friends and family and worked odd jobs as a farm hand, carpenter, and sweeper at a cotton mill in Fries. Around 1924 he heard a record by G.B. Grayson & Henry Whitter that changed his life. He decided to take his music serious and have a go at playing professionally. Stoneman went to New York and recorded several records for Okeh and Victor. His first recording "The Sinking of the Titanic", recorded in September, 1924 hit number three on the Billboard/Variety charts. The record stayed on the charts for ten weeks and sold over one million copies, the first country record to do so.
Pop moved back to southwestern Virginia and began adding his and Hattie's grown children to the family band to give them a full string band sound. When the Depression hit, it hit the rural counties of the Appalachians hard and Pop moved his family to Carmody Hills, Maryland near Washington, D.C., where Pop found steady work at a Naval gun factory. Pop Stoneman recorded over 200 records before his death June 14, 1968. The Stonemans, as the family band was now known, continued to play at festivals and TV shows across the country. Pop & Hattie's daughter, Roni Stoneman, may be best known as Ida Lee, the Ironing Board Lady on the popular Hee Haw TV show for many years.