Little Nellie rose above poverty to become a Bluegrass singing star.
Nellie's Bluegrass Burners
In the Appalachian mountains of Eastern Kentucky. A special child was born there who would become a country Bluegrass singing star. Her family was very poor with little means to promote her wonderful talent. She was named Nellie after her Aunt Nellie May.
Little Nellie was one of 10 children born to Elmer and Lottie Jones. Life was hard for the family and her, living in poverty stricken Eastern Kentucky, in the 1950's. Sometimes she would have to walk to school 2 miles down the old road in the rain and snow.
Elmer was a hillside farmer, but he managed to raise enough vegetables in the summer, to feed his big family through the winter months. He would always raise a couple of hogs for slaughtering in late Autumn, and the two cows provided enough milk for the family to drink.
Little Nellie often helped her Mother, Lottie, to cook and care for the younger children. Lottie, would have to get out of bed way before dawn to cook breakfast, on the old wood burning cooking stove. When Lottie did the family laundry. Water would have to be carried up from the rocky creek below, and heated in a large wash tube by an open wood fire. Their house was nothing more than a hillside shack, but Elmer and Lottie did all they could to make it a good home.
It never bothered little Nellie being poor, for in Appalachia most people lived in poverty. Most of her school friends lived under the same conditions. Little Nellie loved living in the natural surroundings of rural Kentucky, in the Appalachian mountains.
On Sunday mornings, Elmer and Lottie would load the children in the hay wagon. Sampson and Delila, the two plow horses pulled the wagon and family, to the little country church a couple of miles down the old rocky and dirt road. Sunday's, were about the only time they met with neighbors and friends at the church services. The Jones family wore their best hand me downs to church to worship God.
After church services, the adults would talk about the weather and how their crops were doing. This would give little Nellie a chance to play with her friends. She loved going to church, and worshiping God. During the church services one Sunday morning, a visitor came to the church, his name was John South. When they started singing Hymns, little Nellie's voice towered over and beyond the range of the rest of the congregation, at this time little Nellie was 10 years old.
The church visitor John South, heard her beautiful voice and was amazed with the range she had. John was the leader of a Gospel Bluegrass band, that happened to need a lead singer. His band had 5 members, who played the, Violin, Mandolin, Banjo, Guitar, and Base Fiddle. But, he needed a good lead singer for the band. Therefore, John decided to ask little Nellie's parents if she could join the band as its lead singer.
Elmer and Lottie Jones were God fearing Christians. They raised little Nellie to be a Christian too. John, assured them he would care for and treat little Nellie as if she was his child. Because little Nellie was only 10 at the time,
she would need a guardian to care for her safety. They asked Aunt Nellie May, if she would become little Nellie's guardian away from home.
Aunt Nellie, was Elmer's Jones sister, she had never gotten married even though she was 30 years old. She agreed to care for little Nellie away from home. Elmer said he would allow little Nellie to sing in the band as long as she would not be around any alcohol. John South, agreed and said he would treat little Nellie like a daughter.
John, owned a Ford van he carried the band and their instruments in. At that time they played gigs only in the Appalachian part of Kentucky. They would play their Gospel Bluegrass music at many churches, and at different outings and gatherings. They never charged a set price for their services, but did accept donations.
Little Nellie, knew most of the most popular Hymns by memory from singing them at church. John got the band together, including little Nellie to practice their harmony. With her as the lead singer John knew the band could go some where in the Gospel music world. This is when John, changed the band's name to, Nellie's Bluegrass Burners, after all she was the lead singer.
After a few shows in Appalachia, little Nellie's voice was becoming well known. On lookers and fans would actually cry when she sang the Gospel Hymns. Her sweet voice brought a hopeful innocence to the Gospel music she sang, I Saw The Light, I'll Fly Away, to name a couple of them.
A Bluegrass radio station, in Ashland, Kentucky, signed the band to a contract, to play and record their music. A record company owned the radio station. This gave the band a chance to be heard all over Eastern, Kentucky. Soon the radio station could not keep up with the demand for their music. It was bombarded with request to hear little Nellie's sweet voice. The band's popularity was growing fast.
Little Nellie, enjoyed the new fame and the financial gain, she was getting from more and more fans. Still she missed her family a lot, Elmer and Lottie, and her siblings. However, she was so glad to help her family financial wise. Because she was spending more time singing on the road, Aunt Nellie May, started schooling her, for she was a learned woman.
John South the band's owner and leader bought the band a new and bigger truck, for their increasingly longer show travels. They now played in many states including, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
It was now in the early 1940's, and little Nellie was 16 years old she had blossomed into a beautiful young lady. With gorges long red hair and big blue eyes that enhanced her tall slender body, she was truly an Appalachian Queen.
Nellie's Bluegrass Burner's, would go on to be featured with some of the Bluegrass great's: Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, Jimmy Martin, and the Osbourne Bros, to name a few. The sweet voice she had brought to Bluegrass, rewarded her well financially. She was generous with her family, to insure none of her siblings would have to walk to school in the cold rain or snow. Nellie, went on to become a Bluegrass legend.