Fans of old time string band music throughout the mountains of Southwest Virginia, Western North Carolina, and Northeast Tennessee are well familiar with the name Martha Spencer.Martha has been a long time member of the Whitetop Mountain Band, one of the longest tenured and most popular old time string bands in the country. Founded in the 1940s by noted fiddler Arthur Hash, Martha’s parents joined in the 1970s and the Spencer family has been synonymous with Whitetop Mountain Band ever since.Whitetop Mountain Band fans can vividly describe Martha’s harmonies, multi-instrumental proficiency – she can play guitar, fiddle, banjo, and bass -, and her energetic flatfootin’.After many years traveling and recording with Whitetop Mountain Band and a slew of other projects, Martha Spencer has finally released her debut solo record, a collection of tunes rooted in old time Appalachian and country traditions.I recently caught up with Martha to chat about the new record, playing music with her family, and flatfootin’.BRO – I know you have been playing and recording for years, but this is the first record with just your name on the cover. How’s it feel?MS – I am excited and happy to finally have a solo album out. I have been writing songs for a long time, so it was fun to get to record some of these with some of my favorite people. I got to have my family and a lot of close friends on the record, which made it special. I think this album encompasses a lot of the styles I like, and it’s got a bit of variety and branching out on it.BRO – What are your first musical memories with your family?MS – Well, I don’t know if I ever recall without music in my family. My dad would always be playing his fiddle every night as I went to sleep as a child. My parents took me along to little mountain dances and festivals ever since I was in diapers. My mom would teach a lot of music classes, and I would go along there, too. My cousin, Audrey, would bring over a fiddle she had made for Daddy to try out, or my cousin Dean would be having a jam at his house. There were always a lot of instruments and musicians around as long as I remember. I know my Mom and Dad had little instruments for me and my brother to mess around with since we were really little. I was a dancer first, but I know I first got more serious in playing when I was seven or so on the guitar first, and my dad would have me back him up on chords when he would play fiddle tunes.BRO – I have been a student at the Mountain Music School in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, where I know you have been an instructor. What kind of satisfaction do you get imparting the traditions of Appalachian music to younger generations?MS – I think Mountain Music School is an awesome week with special folks and I always feel honored to be a part of that. Passing on the mountain music means a lot to me. I think being proud of where you are from, your local culture and traditions, and respecting the older generations and the knowledge they have to offer are all really important. Every time I play a tune, I think about who I learned it from, and a little piece of that person lives on forever in that tune, I believe. I think so fondly back on my family and friends that I learned from every time I pick up an instrument, and I hope whoever I teach something to will maybe think back on me in the same way someday.BRO – We are featuring “Blue Ridge Mountain Lullaby” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?MS – That’s basically a story of my childhood and life growing up on Haw Orchard Mountain in the Whitetop area. The sights and sounds of my daddy fiddling, my momma singing, and all the animals we had around the place. It’s a sentimental song for me about how much I appreciated growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains with wonderful parents and surrounded by music and wildlife.BRO – Can you teach me to dance like that?MS – Why, sure I can!!!Martha might have bitten off more than she can chew if she really thinks she can get me flat footin’ . . . . but I’m game!You can catch Martha Spencer live on the WDVX Blue Plate Special on November 23rd and then at The Carter Family Fold on November 24th.For more information on Martha Spencer, the new record, on when she will be on stage near you, please flat foot right over to her website.In the meantime, check out “Blue Ridge Mountain Lullaby,” along with brand new tunes from The Bottle Rockets, Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers, Fastball, Tellico, and many more on this month’s Trail Mix.
Sarah, as she’s commonly called around her community, says all she ever wanted in her life was the mother she had never seen before.When Sarah was six months old, her mother Beatrice was at the verge of leaving her anywhere out of desperation. Since giving birth to the child, she had lost her freedom and, trapped in her youth as a new mother, her friends – or so she thought they were – all deserted her.“Mother took me to my grandmother’s house in Sierra Leone, Freetown in 1980 – my father’s mother – who told her that my father no longer lived there. My mother was devastated. Grandma told me years later that my mother cried as she was redirected back to Liberia. But this trip around, she didn’t want to take along a suckling two month old. So she left me behind.” According to Sarah, Beatrice panicked and begged her child’s grandmother, Ade, to let her buy a few things in the market before heading back. Ade agreed. “I didn’t want to take Sarah because I was in an abusive relationship then and was being treated like a prisoner at the time,” Ade recalls. “But I knew in my heart that Beatrice wanted to leave the baby behind and in my heart, I wanted her to.” Before Ade could make up her mind, Beatrice was gone and had left behind the little girl who would become Ade’s favorite person in life.Life moved on in the home of Ade with her grandchild and children of her own. She recalls moments where her husband, who was originally from Congo and 10 years older than her, would beat her around, punch her face whenever he had bad day or simply to release his anger for any reason.“The beatings were too much and on top of that, I was a hard working woman who parched peanuts, sold cold-bowl rice and raised pigs and other crops. Taking care of my seven children, plus Sarah and Tee-wee, was all a burden on me. But nevertheless, that’s what made me a good mother and grandmother, I took it all in,” she said.Then war hitSarah cannot remember when it happened, but when she was 11 years- old, shots being fired in a nearby town caused her family, including her grandmother, to flee. They forgot about Sarah, who laid asleep in one of the bedrooms.Throughout the war, Sarah managed to tuck herself in an orphanage that looked after the children who went to the Water Key (Port of Freetown) everyday to look for food.“Every day I would sneak to the port because that was the easiest way to find food. I was able to find food everyday there and somewhere in between my scavenging days, I was taken to an orphanage in one of the counties by peacekeepers. I was blessed,” she recalls.Meanwhile, Sarah survived the war and eventually had a child of her own at the age of 21. According to Sarah, the bond between the two has always been strained. She feels she might get separated from him just as her mother was with her.“It’s hard not having a mother or family and not knowing where they are. I have thought of my mother endlessly and wonder where she might be. For the past 10 years, I have been searching for her through every refugee program around the world. My son knows that something is wrong because there are no relatives coming for birthdays, Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas,” she shared.In March of 2015, Sarah received a call from a woman claiming to be her mother’s youngest sister she had traced from the internet. Though she claimed to have known Sarah, the child Beatrice gave birth too, she made it understood that she did not know Beatrice’s whereabouts.“She invited me over and we met for the very first time. But there was something totally wrong about my so-called aunt. She had nothing good to say about my mother or any of their relatives. I had become suspicious of her and decided to stay away from her and continue looking for my mother,” Sarah said.On morning, Sarah remembers feeling depressed, unwanted and at the verge of giving up on the search for her mother she so yearned to see, when a second call came. “It was my aunt again, but this time she had good news. She told me she had found my mother in Newfoundland, Canada, but that she was not well. She told me that my mother wanted to speak to me, but I couldn’t understand why she didn’t give my number to her,” Sarah recalls.According to Sarah’s aunt, she wanted to be there while the two talked on the phone, so she refused to give Sarah her mother’s number.“Some family people are here to destroy rather than build. I know this woman from nowhere and now she is controlling whether I talk to my mother or not. Up till now I have not spoken to her for reasons unknown to me,” Sarah said.She then shared verbatim what her aunt told her: “Beatrice had a mental breakdown quite recently looking for her children. I tried telling her that I had found Sarah, but she still collapsed. She is a very sad and mentally ill woman, at least that’s what her doctor in Canada told me. I want Sarah to meet her mother but Sarah has children here to take care of, so I suggested that I go to Canada instead of her to take care of her mother who is in a home now.” In the meantime, Sarah has contacted a refugee program responsible for taking over thousands of refugees to Canada in the past. She has also reached out to various news outlets in hope of attracting a journalist with her story. She feels she is being kept away from her mother and Beatrice could possibly need help.“I want to see my mother despite the mental challenges they are saying she has. Mental illness can be cured and it’s not her fault, she went through hell during the war and lost many of us. But she needs to know I am here for her, I will never let her go,” Sarah cried. “I’m being deprived of seeing my own mother for selfish reasons unknown to me.”Sarah has reached out to our reporter in hopes of getting help in reuniting with her mother. Anyone knowing the whereabouts of Beatrice Weah or Beatrice Williams is asked to call 0770-479-189 [email protected] Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)