“Outsiders are determined to end coal mining in Appalachia and, eventually, in the United States. Tens of thousands of jobs, and the stability of thousands of families and entire communities are at risk. International award-winning, Grammy nominated artist and songwriter Stella Parton has released a new CD entitled “American Coal” and in conjunction with the release of this new CD, a series of American Coal Concerts are being arranged throughout the country to show support of the coal industry.” – From Coal News
Stella Parton and I had a talk a few weeks ago, and our interview was exactly three hours before the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in West Virginia. Argus Energy Coal representative Randy Maggard had asked that I put up an article about her here on this blog, since she was “Pro Coal”. I told him I’d like to get to know her music first, so I called her and asked that we do an interview about her songwriting, without becoming political. I asked her to participate in an interview for a radio program that I produce called “In Search of a Song” with Jason Wilber. Jason is John Prine’s long time lead guitarist, and we’ve done a radio show about songwriting for many years. I asked her no leading questions about coal, but she brought up her newest album “American Coal”, and sent me a copy before our date to talk. We spoke about her influences, singing around the house, and doing gospel music with her family (one being her famous singer/actress sister Dolly). In talking with her, she said how much she wanted to support the miners, and their families. She is a very nice woman, and very outspoken musically about her heritage in the Appalachians. Her interview will be available and streamed live on Saturday May 8th at wfhb.org at 4pm EST. After getting to know her, and after reading the above statement by “Coal News”, I have a few comments about my interview with Stella, and how it relates to the coal industry.
Stella speaks out musically for the miners. Her “American Coal” cd is full of songs about mining, for sure… like “Dark as a Dungeon”, “Working in the Coal Mine”, “16 Tons”, “Coal Tattoo”,”Coal Miners Daughter”,”I’m a Coal Mining Man”, “The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore”, and some of her own songs, like “Preacher and a Miner”, “I Love My Country”, her sister Dolly’s “Blackie Kentucky”, as well as a very strongly worded “West Virginia Underground” . In listening to her CD, I was struck about how many of the songs talked about the strife of the miners, and how they had been mistreated by the coal companies, were poor and underpaid, and sick from various coal diseases. Stella told me how she was against mountain top removal, and the destruction of the Appalachians, however, she was proud to support the miners, and their families, and didn’t want another Chernobyl in our country. So in fact, though she seems to be advised to jump on the pro-coal wagon, it’s my opinion that she might do well to rethink what she’s doing. The coal companies are using her for their benefit.
The other thing that the statement above brings up, is a blatant “Fox News” trick of telling what “people believe” as if it’s a fact. All environmentalists don’t want to ruin peoples lives, and take away their ability to make a living. What isn’t said here, is that there are new jobs available to alternative energy projects. That the Appalachians could be full of tourism dollars, and quaint artistic communities that exist elsewhere in areas where the economy isn’t controlled by big conglomerate companies. Environmentalists are interested in a bigger picture. One that does not include polluting the environment for energy, and destroying Appalachia for short term purposes. Environmentalists understand that coal could be replaced, jobs could be abundant, and fear and disease can and should be eliminated from how we get our energy. How this concept is painted as un-American and environmentalists framed as people that should despised is very simple- more big power people that make big money don’t want change to happen. It’s the age old problem of greed, lies, and twisting the truth to suit. I hope that Stella Parton realizes that she’s not doing the miners any good by allowing her name to be used as a smokescreen for the coal companies interests.
I called Stella back a few hours after I’d heard about the Upper Big Branch disaster, and asked her if she wanted to comment further. She said that of course, she prayed for the miners and their families, but was pretty angry at the amount of violations by Massey Energy. Now does that sound like the voice of the coal company to you? I completely understand how people realize that coal is a necessary evil right now, but I hope that in the future, we can sing songs about the way we overcame the evils of policies that limit safety in the cause of profits. Let me leave with the lyrics from “16 Tons” from Stella’s CD.
“You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go;
I owe my soul to the company store.”
by Executive Producer of In Search of a Song