A couple of years ago, Ada Jones, who use to coordinate the Pioneer Village in Nashville, Indiana, told me she had a recording of her mother-in-law singing old songs and she wondered if I was interested in listening to it. “I am always interested in local music traditions!” I replied. She loaned me the recording, which was on an old lacquer-disk, which takes special equipment to playback. I contacted the Archives of Traditional Music at IU and asked if they could help me find a machine. They digitized the antique disk of Brown County songs, many of which I had never heard. My interest piqued, I now wanted to find out more about the old woman with the strong voice on the disc. The paragraphs below are highlights from what I have discovered so far.
In the spring of 1950, Bill Jones, an Indianapolis schoolteacher, borrowed a recorder from his school and traveled to his parent’s home in Nashville, at the time his mother, Mildred M. Jones was 76. Though she only attended school through the seventh or eighth grade, she excelled in music and loved to perform. She was active in the Nashville Christian Church, where she often played the wheezy old organ and led the congregational singing.
Music was a part of Mildred’s daily life. Her friend and local poet Marietta Moser wrote the lyrics, while Mildred directed the “Gossip Group” as it was sometimes called, in the singing:
Let catty thoughts depart, let love dwell in every heart,
Kindness prevail, always unselfishness be, from petty strife be free
Work for the right and we never can fail.
(Sung to the tune of My Country Tis of Thee)
Mildred taught the town kids the play-party game “Soldier Boy,” Bill recalled: “We children would march in a circle in the parlor, waving a flag, and singing the song. The song-game was progressive in that at the end of the repeated stanza the words ‘And you may be a soldier boy if you will come too,’ a cue for the next child to join the moving circle.”
Local musicians gathered to the Jones’s home on Jefferson Street for informal sessions called “musicales.” Usually two or three fiddlers would play, while Mildred accompanied them on the piano. Occasionally Mildred’s brother, Mart Hopper would come to play guitar. As the lively music filled the home, Mildred’s husband Jim, a local lawyer and banker, sat in the adjoining living room, quietly smoking his pipe.
The old disk that Ada loaned me contained seventeen a cappela songs, including old ballads such as Over the Garden Wall and Kitty Wells; popular songs from Mildred’s youth like Let Me Call you Sweet Heart and All for the Love of a Sweet little Girl; she even sang a quiet closing lullaby:
Loving goodnight, tender goodnight,
Sweet words of parting goodnight.
Parting is only, only for night.
Meeting will come with the light. Good-Night.
Listen Here: Loving Goodnight
While this collection of songs is interesting and diverse, it represents only of fraction of the old songs that Mildred knew. Her daughter-in-law confirmed: “She knew a lot more I think; some of them she just made up or gathered from this and from that, just the way the old ballads were sung.”
Mildred Jones passed away in 1956 at the age of 80. She spent the last two months of her life in a nursing home in Columbus. Even though cancer had spread through her body and she was in great pain, she entertained the other patients by singing old hymns and folk songs.
The Patter of the Shingle
As sung by Mildred M. Jones (1950)
When the angry passion gathering in my mama’s face I see,
And she takes me to the bedroom gently lays me on her knee.
Then I know that I will catch it, and my flesh in fancy itches.
As I listen to the patter of the of the shingle on my britches.
Every tingle of the shingle has an echo and a sting.
And a thousand burning fancies into active being spring.
And a thousand bees and hornets ‘neath my coattail seems to swarm.
As I listen to the patter of the shingle oh so warm.
In a sudden intermission, that appears my only chance,
I say, “Strike gently Mama, or you’ll stick my Sunday pants.
She stops one moment, holds her breath, the shingle holds aloft.
As she says, “I hadn’t thought of that, my son just take them off.”
Holy Moses, and the angels lookin’ pittyin’ glances down.
And thou’ ole family doctor put a good soft poultice on.
And may I with fools and dunces, everlastingly co-mingle.
If I ever say one word again when mother wields a shingle.
Oh the patter of the shingle is still ringing in my ears.
On my cheeks are dried up ridges, which were once my boyish tears.
If my Mama’s only spanked me, as she used to with her hand,
I could then sit down with comfort, now I much prefer to stand.”