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Coal Mining Songs

The Y! Music Playlist Blog

Over the last few years our country has suffered through some horrible coal mining disasters. This playlist highlights the long musical tradition of coal mining songs.

Coal mining has a long and distinguished history in America. The story of coal in is one of hardship and triumph. This black gold undoubtedly was the fuel that built America and the men who mined it worked under extremely hazardous and strenuous conditions. Many of those who entered the pits never returned due to slope failure, roof collapse, gas and explosions. Some of those that survived the hazards of the work itself only ended up victims of violent union busting that some coal companies practiced. And some lucky enough to survive this lived only long enough to suffer a slow death brought on by coal miners' pneumoconiosis or "the black lung", which is caused by inhaling coal dust.

The men that raised their families by doing the exhausting work of coal mining for very little pay deserve the respect of every free citizen in this nation. It was upon their back and upon their suffering that we enjoy so many things we take for granted today, like our highways and electricity. Live just one week without these comforts and you may have a newfound respect for the coal miner.

The history of coal mining and song goes back to the early 1900's when workers made tunes up to help the hellish work pass a little easier, to blues and protest songs, which lamented the terrible working conditions and "slave-owner" mindset of some mining companies.

Other songs are history lessons as told in the fine oral tradition of folk music.

Songs such as the "Ludlow Massacre" and "1913 Massacre" by Woody Guthrie tell the stories of those murdered at the hands of their employer.

The lives of those who suffered in the coalmines made for exceptional song material. These were real stories that contained the kind of heartache that no human being should have to face in life. And even though technology and unions have eliminated most of the horror, coalmining is still a dangerous occupation even today.

New songs are still being written about the subject, most notably in the genres of bluegrass, country and folk.

Some Interesting Tidbits:

"Sixteen Tons" was a hit record for Johnny Cash, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Merle Travis who originally wrote it in 1946.

Merle Travis' brothers and father were coal miners in Kentucky

"Coalminers" by Uncle Tupelo is a remake of a traditional coal workers anthem

Dwight Yoakam, like Merle Travis, also has deep Kentucky roots where coal mining was a part of life

"Ludlow Massacre" by Woody Guthrie is a true story of what happened on April 20, 1914 in Ludlow. Colorado. 20 men woman and children were murdered by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company in an attempt to suppress the miner's joining the UMWA (United Mine Workers of America)

Harlan County, Kentucky is a large and history-rich coal mining area

"Big Bad John" by Jimmy Dean was a huge hit in the US when it was released in 1961. Not only did it top the Pop charts for 5 weeks, but it was also #1 on the Country charts for 2 weeks, and #1 Adult Contemporary for 10 weeks

Yes, this is the same Jimmy Dean who started a famous line of sausage products. He also had his own TV series in the '50s and '60s.

"Coal Miner's Blues" by The Carter Family was a real coal mining work song that the Carter Family learned from "several miners in Wise County, Virginia"

"Coal Miner's Daughter" by Loretta Lynn was turned into a big hit autobiographical movie about Loretta Lynn's life, released in 1980. Sissy Spacek won an Oscar for her role in the film.


The Playlist:

1. Miner's Prayer - Dwight Yoakam

2. Sissy - The Statler Brothers

3. Dark As A Dungeon - Johnny Cash

4. Coal Miner's Grave - Hazel Dickens

5. Miner's Lullabye - James Low

6. Coalminers - Uncle Tupelo

7. Miner's Refrain - Dry Branch Fire Squad

8. Sixteen Tons - Merle Travis

9. Dream Of A Miner's Child - Phyllis Boyens

10. Talking Miner - Ramblin' Jack Elliott

11. A Miner's Life - Charlie Waller & The Country Gentlemen

12. Coal Miner's Daughter - Loretta Lynn

13. Hello Coal Miner - Sarah Gunning

14. Springhill Mining Disaster - Luke Kelly

15. I'm That Man Down In The Mine - Jazz Gillum

16. Coal Miner's Blues - The Carter Family

17. The Miner - Tom Juravich

18. Working In A Coalmine - Lee Dorsey

19. Coalminer - O.A.R.

20. Coal Tattoo - The Kingston Trio

21. Miner's Lullaby - Jody Stecher

22. Ludlow Massacre - John McCutcheon

23. Scofield Mine Disaster - Jody Stecher

24. The L & N Don't Stop Here Anymore - Johnny Cash

25. Springfield Mt. Coalminer - The Acousticats

26. Clay County Miner - Hazel Dickens

27. Company Store - Greg MacPherson

28. Tell The Boys At Pittston - Tom Juravich

29. Miner's Daughter - Margo Hennebach

30. Old Kentucky Miner - Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time

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