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Still Singin'

A Visit with Bill and Hazel Westfall

Interview by Bob Whitcomb

Bill and Hazel Westfall enjoy a song at their home near Ripley. Photograph by Michael Keller. Bill and Hazel Westfall

If you attend almost any West Virginia music festival, you are certain to find Bill and Hazel Westfall of Ripley. When they are not playing on stage, they are enthusiastically jamming round and about the grounds. One of the most rewarding parts of hearing Bill and Hazel perform is hearing the rich verbal descriptions they give of their music and of the hills from which it comes. My wife Judith and I sat down recently with Bill and Hazel and talked with them about their roots, which run deep in the music and in the West Virginia hills. - Bob Whitcomb.

Bob Whitcomb. We always see you playing music at every festival we go to. Where did all this music come from?

Hazel Westfall. My mother was a beautiful singer, and she taught me how to sing. She was a happy-go-lucky person. When she was in her kitchen a-cookin', she would always sing. She'd sit around the fireplace with some of us children waitin' for Dad to come in from work, and she'd sing all those old songs: "The Little Black Dog That Walks With Me," "In the Sweet Bye and Bye," and "Oh, How I Love Jesus," "The Streets of Laredo," all the old things. I wondered how Mom knew all those songs. Come to find out, she'd sing in church, and she used to play a banjo, and she'd go places where they had birthday parties and things like that. When we kids got of a pretty good size, though, she quit playin' instruments and just sang. She had a whole bunch of brothers and two sisters, and they all could play music, too. They were originally from "Old Virginia," we call it now, down around Danville. And that's where all this music came from.

Bill Westfall. Hazel's momma was a singer, her grandpa was a singer, all her relatives were singers, and her sewing machine, it was a Singer, too! (Laughter)

HW. I was the oldest of 12 children, so Mom wanted me to work with Dad. I worked out in the fields as soon as I was big enough. There I was, hoein' corn. I had real bright red hair, and I had it plaited up down my back, and I had freckles - oodles of 'em - barefooted and all, hoein' corn out there in that field, and the sweat bees a-bitin' me, but I was still singin'. See, that singin' is in me! I can't get it out!

You can read the rest of this article in the Summer 2001 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.