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Mary Jane Queen

Feb. 20, 1914 - June 29, 2007

Culture
Tradition
Year
United States Map Highlighting North Carolina
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Mary Jane Queen began performing the traditional repertoire of the Appalachian region of southwestern North Carolina after raising a family and becoming a widow. Shown here is her son Henry Queen, 2007, photograph by Alan Govenar
Mary Jane Queen, courtesy the Queen family
Mary Jane Queen, courtesy the Queen family
James C. Queen Jr, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Henry Queen, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Kathy Queen Hayes, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Tribute to Mary Jane Queen, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Mark Queen, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts, Photograph by Alan Hatchett
Tribute to Mary Jane Queen by friends and family members, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Tribute to Mary Jane Queen by friends and family members, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Tribute to Mary Jane Queen by friends and family members, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Tribute to Mary Jane Queen by friends and family members, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Tribute to Mary Jane Queen by friends and family members, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
James C. Queen Jr, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Cover of Mary Jane Queen's book "The Life and Times of Mary Jane Queen*

Mary Jane Queen lived her life in the Caney Fork community of Jackson County, in southwestern North Carolina. She was a descendant of some of the earliest Irish-American settlers in the state's Appalachian region. Music was a big part of life in her family, which included her eight siblings. Both grandmothers were good singers. Her father, Jim Prince, was a talented claw-hammer banjo player. Her mother, Clearsie, was a singer, and brothers Alvin, Shirley, Marion, Ernest and Early were good musicians as well.

“Folks used to come from miles around most every Saturday night to the house or to the barn dances where my dad would play,” Queen told an interviewer. “He'd play and sing all night long and never play the same song twice. I learned to play by sound ... never had a lesson in my life.” Along with banjo tunes, Queen learned old ballads and story songs that she sang to accompany work around the house.

In 1935, Queen married Claude Queen, who played guitar and banjo, and all eight of their children became musicians. After her husband died in 1984, Queen began singing at local and regional festivals, often accompanied by some of her children. “The children didn't want me to stay home, so I began to sing and play a few old gospel songs, bluegrass, mountain music and traditional ballads to the crowds,” Queen said. “They sort of enjoyed it. I did, too. I also thoroughly enjoyed going to the schools and talking to the children about the old days, and reciting my poetry.”

Queen freely shared her knowledge of music, gardening and herbal medicine with students, teachers, folklorists, journalists, filmmakers and musicians, and they were always welcome at her home.

“She was very generous with her time and knowledge,” Scott Philyaw, director of Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Center, told the Sylva Herald. “She was always happy to talk with anyone about what it means to be from Jackson County. She was a very welcoming person, and her generosity in sharing her skills, talents and time was unmatched. To me, more than anything, she lived a good life by all the standards that really matter.”

Among Queen’s visitors was Maggie Greenwald, who wrote and directed the 2000 feature film Songcatcher. She based the character of the mountain woman Viney Butler on Queen, and Butler performs Queen’s signature song, I Wish I Was a Single Girl Again, in the movie.

“It’s said that when an older person dies it’s like losing a library; for us at the Mountain Heritage Center, losing Mary Jane is like losing the Library of Congress,” the center’s Suzanne McDowell told the Sylva Herald after Queen died in 2007. “I believe she understood what an important contribution she had made to us.”

Bibliography
Hotaling, Lynn. “Traditional musician Mary Jane Queen is dead at age 93.” The Sylva Herald, July 5, 2007.
Madden, Kerry. “A Smoky Mountain Queen.” The University of Tennessee Alumnus, Winter 2008.
Queen, Mary Jane. The Life and Times of Mary Jane Queen: Her Art, Her Heritage, Her Music. Sylva, North Carolina: Catch The Spirit of Appalachia Inc. Western North Carolina Books, 2005.
“Mountain musician a link to a passing era.” Smoky Mountain News. April 25, 2001.

Filmography
The Queen Family: Appalachian Traditions & Back Porch Music, by Neal Hutcheson and Walt Wolfram of the North Carolina Language and Life Project, North Carolina State University, 2006.
The Queen Family — Appalachian Tradition. The North Carolina Language and Life Project, North Carolina State University.

Discography
Mary Jane Queen. Songs I Like. http://henryqueen.blogspot.com/2013/04/mary-jane-queen-songs-music-cd.html
The Queen Family. Back Porch Mountain Music. http://henryqueen.blogspot.com/p/products.html

Watch

Tribute to Mary Jane Queen by friends and family members, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Clip from a documentary about the Queen family, courtesy the Queen family


Tribute to Mary Jane Queen by friends and family members, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Listen

Kathy Queen Hayes sings one of the last songs that Mary Jane Queen sang before she died. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 19, 2007

Henry Queen sings one of his mother's favorite songs. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 19, 2007

Dianne Gholson sings a song that Mary Jane Queen liked. Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 19, 2007

Mark Queen sings 'Eliza Jane.' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 19, 2007