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Frank Newsome

Nov. 15, 1942

Culture
State
Tradition
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Frank Newsome is an elder of the Old Regular Baptist Church who is a powerful proponent of lined-out hymn singing, one of the oldest and deepest musical traditions of Virginia. 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar.
Frank Newsome, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar.
Frank Newsome, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar.
Frank Newsmen, photography by Morgan Miller, courtesy Virginia Folklife Program.
Frank Newsome, courtesy Virginia Folklife Program.
Frank Newsome, photography by Ashley Twiggs, courtesy Virginia Folklife Program.
Frank Newsome, photography by Ashley Twiggs, courtesy Virginia Folklife Program.

Frank Newsome was one of twenty-two children of a coal miner in Pike County, Kentucky. As a child, he began attending Old Regular Baptist services with his mother. “We used to walk over four miles just on Saturday and Sunday going to church,” he told interviewer Alan Govenar. For a time he lived in Ohio, where he and his brother Johnny worked in a sawmill and sang on a radio station. With Frank’s guitar accompaniment, they performed country songs by artists such as Hank Williams and the Stanley Brothers. After moving to Virginia, Frank worked in the coal mines for more than seventeen years. In 1963, he had a spiritual experience and became an active member of the Little David Church. He was called to become a minister in 1972 and devoted himself full time to his ministry after contracting black lung disease and leaving the mines four years later.

The Old Regular Baptists, found mostly around the junction of West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky, do not believe in musical accompaniment in their services. They sing a cappella in a call-and-response pattern known as “lining out hymns.” The preacher sings a line, and the congregation repeats it in a mournful blend of voices.

One of Newsome’s early musical inspirations, Ralph Stanley, is a neighbor and friend who sometimes worships at the Little David Church. Stanley has made it a tradition to have Newsome open his Memorial Day bluegrass festival with a hymn. Newsome has also appeared at a number of other festivals, including the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C., and the National Folk Festival in Richmond, Virginia, and has performed on National Public Radio. In the words of Joshua Kohn, then program manager for the National Council for the Traditional Arts, one of those who nominated Newsome for the NEA honor, the minister “stole the show” in a 2007 National Folk Festival appearance with well-known performers Linda Lay, Maggie Ingram and Doyle Lawson.

None of this acclaim has altered Newsome’s humble view of himself. “I most of all want to thank God Almighty that He’s given me the gift that He has to sing, and if it will profit anybody anything, if it’ll cause them to turn from their sins unto the Good Lord, then it’s worth every bit of it,” he said. “I’m not doing this for no big name or no pat on the back. No, I don’t want that. I’m just an old country feller. I ain’t got nothing, and I ain’t looking for nothing, but I believe I’ve got a home in heaven when I leave here.”

Bibliography
"Virginia Preacher Leads Congregation In Song." National Public Radio, April 6, 2008. http://www.npr.org/2008/04/06/89349054/virginia-preacher-leads-congregation-in-song

Discography
Newsome, Frank. Gone Away With a Friend. The Crooked Road Series, VFHCR 109.

Watch

Frank Newsome, 'Sweet Beulah Land,' video, courtesy Virginia Folklife Program

Frank Newsome, 'Gone Away with a Friend,' video, courtesy Virginia Folklife Program


Frank Newsome, 2011 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Frank Newsome, 2011 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Frank Newsome, interviewed by Nicholas R. Spitzer, 2011 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Listen

Frank Newsome, 'When I Heard,' Gone Away With A Friend, The Crooked Road Series, VFHCR109

Frank Newsome, 'City That Lies Four Square,' Gone Away With A Friend, The Crooked Road Series, VFHCR109

Frank Newsome, 'Prayer,' Gone Away With A Friend, The Crooked Road Series, VFHCR109

Frank Newsome answers the question 'How did you get started singing?' Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, July 5, 2011

Frank Newsome answers the question 'What are some of the songs that you sing?' Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, July 5, 2011

Frank Newsome answers the question 'What kind of day work have you done?' Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, July 5, 2011

Frank Newsome sings, 'He's My All In All,' telephone interview by Alan Govenar, July 5, 2011

Frank Newsome answers the question 'What does singing mean to you?' Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, July 5, 2011

Frank Newsome answers the questions 'What does the tradition of Baptist singing mean to you? Have you been able to pass it on?' Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, July 5, 2011

Frank Newsome answers the question 'Did you ever sing songs about the working conditions in the mines?' Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, July 5, 2011

Frank Newsome answers the question 'How long do your church services usually last?' Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, July 5, 2011

Frank Newsome sings 'Gone Away With A Friend,' telephone interview by Alan Govenar, July 5, 2011

Frank Newsome answers the question 'What keeps you going?' Telephone interview by Alan Govenar, July 5, 2011