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Traditional musician Phoeba Cottrell Parsons (April 21, 1908-July 4, 2001) was a banjo player, ballad singer, storyteller, teller of riddles, and flatfoot dancer. She was born in Calhoun County and picked up her brother’s homemade banjo at age ten, even though ‘‘he didn’t want me to play because he was afraid I’d beat him.’’ This brother, Noah Cottrell, was also a respected banjo picker, fiddler, and storyteller. He died in 1991.

After Phoeba married in 1928 she ceased playing music and didn’t take up the banjo again until the 1960s. In 1975, she won the banjo contest at the West Virginia State Folk Festival at Glenville, which is generally regarded as the state’s most authentic music festival. The following year she was one of a select group of musicians to represent the Mountain State at the Festival of American Folklife in Washington. In 1987, she received the Vandalia Award, West Virginia’s highest folklife honor. Parsons’s traditional claw-hammer banjo style, unaccompanied ballad singing, riddles and storytelling, and mastery of the fiddlesticks have influenced countless numbers of younger musicians. As she noted in a 1987 interview with folklorist Michael Kline, ‘‘Nobody showed me nothing, [but] I learned a lot of people how to play.’’

This Article was written by Susan A. Eacker

Last Revised on December 08, 2015

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Taped interviews & musical recordings. Hutchins Library, Augusta Collection, Davis & Elkins College, Elkins.

Cite This Article

Eacker, Susan A. "Phoeba Parsons." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 08 December 2015. Web. 19 April 2024.


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