Photograph of Moly O'Day Lynn Davis holding his favorite picture of Molly and her banjo, Huntington, West Virginia, October 1997.   Photo by Geoff Eacker

MOLLY O’DAY (1923-1987) was born in McVeigh, Kentucky, “so far back in a holler,” she once said, “that you had to break daylight with a sledgehammer and the groundhogs carried the mail.” Despite its isolation, it was the culture of eastern Kentucky that produced musical greats like Molly. At the age of seventeen, Molly (nee Laverne Williamson) took her banjo playing and her ballads to the airwaves, recruited by Lynn Davis who managed WHIS in Bluefield, WV. She soon joined Lynn in matrimony and music, singing vocals and playing a hard-driven eastern Kentucky frailing banjo with the Cumberland Mountain Folks. Between 1946-51, the band recorded thirty-six songs for Columbia Records. According to numerous record producers, Molly was poised to become the “female Hank Williams” when she left the music business in the early 1950s to pursue a life in the ministry with her husband. The couple settled in Huntington, West Virginia, where Lynn lived. She died on December 5, 1987 and her husband died on December 18, 2000.

Lynn remembers the time Molly beat legendary bluegrass banjoist Earl Scruggs in “a banjo pickin’ contest.” Lynn thinks she won because “she’d just about go berserk pickin’ the banjo,” a testimony evident on her recording of songs like “Poor Ellen Smith.”

banjo clipart

INTERVIEW:   AudioTranscription

PERFORMANCE:   “Poor Ellen Smith”

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