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Remembering "Aunt Jennie Wilson"

By Billy Edd Wheeler

Aunt Jennie Wilson sings and plays her banjo at a music festival in the late 1960s. Photographer unknown.

Virginia “Aunt Jennie” Wilson (1900-1992) of Logan County was one of the best old-time banjo players and storytellers in West Virginia history. Aunt Jennie was featured on the cover of our Spring 1984 issue and received the 1984 Vandalia Award, West Virginia’s highest folklife honor, for lifetime achievement in traditional music. Billy Edd Wheeler became close friends with Aunt Jennie in the 1960s and recorded an album of her music and stories, A Portrait of Aunt Jennie Wilson. Here, he recounts some of the tales she told him. –ed.

I met “Aunt Jennie” when we were both performing at the Mountain State Art & Craft Fair back around 1965. She was full of stories. I just fell in love with her. She’d tell me about incidents she’d had. And one of her admonitions to women was, “Buddy, it pays a woman to learn how to shoot a gun. You don’t know when you’re going to be in a tight place and want to get out of there.”

I’m telling you, she was feisty. She went to a barn dance. She called her fellow bandmates musiciners. She was upstairs, and a fight broke out. She told me, “Somebody fired a shot that went square through my banjer, and I didn’t know if I was shot. I slewed that banjer down by my side and checked to see if there was any blood. People was fighting, men and women. I walked through that crowd almost paralyzed, just like Frankenstein. I went downstairs, and the minute I stepped outside, somebody shot a horse, and it fell dead right at my feet. I saw the man I’d rode to the dance with. He’d locked hisself inside of an old Model T and wouldn’t open the door and let me in. Too dern afraid to open the door. I’ll tell you, I never went out with that coward again, even if he did have the only Model T in the county!” 

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