Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Buzzardtown Tongue Twisters

by David Parmer

To the left: Charlie Henline of the Buzzardtown Tongue Twisters and his sister Barbara Jean.

The crowd had
arrived early to
Frank McPherson’s wooden frame building at the western end of the Burnsville iron bridge. It was Saturday night and the building was already full of young adult couples, high school kids, and their country cousins from “up the river,” from Orlando, and Copen, and Hyre’s Run. There were far more people crowding the room than there were tables and chairs to accommodate the eager early comers. The door of the dance hall was open to Depot Street and late comers were lingering near the door looking for an opportunity to enter. .
On the raised platform on the river side of the building, two lean and lanky young men in dark trousers and white shirts had set up their music stands and were whispering quietly with a small, thin angel-like young lady while they were looking at sheets of music. Appearing to agree on a common decision, the trio turned to face the anxious crowd. Olive, the vocalist, smiled, and looked to her brother Charlie who, tapping his toe, began strumming and fingering his guitar in a rhythmic cadenza which provided the “beat” of the tune. As Charlie neared the end of his “intro,” Olive looked to her brother James, with violin under his chin, who skillfully picked up the last note played by Charlie, and began echoing the same beat, with the same toe tapping, in slightly different notes. Charlie accompanied with subtle harmonious chords. As the crowd began to feel at one with the beat provided by the strings, Olive’s high soprano voice, crystal clear and lovely, came out of nowhere and joined the syncopated music filling the hall. Heads in the crowd swayed to and fro, dancers began taking the floor, and you could tell it was going to be a nice night of music.
After over seventy years, Waitman Collins, now eighty-eight years of age and living in Grafton, vividly recalls, as if it were yesterday, the wonderful night of music of James, Charles and Olive Henline, who were known as the Buzzardtown Tongue Twisters.
A Heritage of Music Making
Olive, James and Charles Henline were the first three children of Amos and Charlotte (Blake) Henline, and were born in 1914, 1918, and 1919, respectively. They enjoyed making music together during their lifetimes and entertaining friends and family- first on Posey Run, or Buzzardtown as Uncle Zeke1 called it, then in Burnsville where they moved in 1935, and later from Norfolk, Virginia to Cincinnati, Ohio.
To the left: Top row, Charlotte and Amos. middle row, Jake and Pat. Front row, Charlie, Olive and James.

Below, right: Amos' father John Columbus Henline. Click on this photo to see the detail.
Their dad Amos Henline was born in Orlando in 1893, the son of John Columbus and Sarah (Godfrey) Henline. Amos was already fiddling at the age of 21 when an accident at work, in the veneering mill at Burnsville, took two fingers. Amos then found life-long employment at the Burnsville area operations of the Philadelphia Gas Company and its successor, The Equitable Gas Company.

The year before his accident, in 1913, Amos had married Charlotte Blake, the daughter of Charles V. and Olive (Scarff) Blake of Orlando. Amos and Charlotte began having children right away and over the next twenty three years, they became parents of Olive, James, Charles, Forrest "Jake", Claude "Pat" and Melloney. In later years younger brothers Jake and Pat joined Charlie and Jimmy on stage in Cincinnati.

Charlotte died in 1938, just before her fortieth birthday. Amos married Mable Posey and they had several more children, including Barbara Jean pictured at the top with Charlie, Olive Alice, who was born shortly after her sister Olive (Henline) Brannon died, and Belinda. .

To the left: Mable, Amos, Belinda and Olive Alice at Christmas.
As the Bach family of Germany was noted for its musical heritage so the Blake family of Clover Fork is noted for its contribution to the musical heritage of the Oil Creek valley. One wag suggested that Blake children are born with fiddles in their hands. The Blake genes coursed through the veins of Amos and Charlotte's children and at a young age they began exhibiting a precocity for music.
~ Olive began singing with a remarkable voice at a very young age.
~ James, the next oldest child, and perhaps the most versatile of the Buzzardtown Tongue Twisters, was introduced to the violin at a very early age by his uncle Walter Blake,2 his mother’s brother, who played the fiddle from a very young age. James eventually mastered the guitar, mandolin, bass, and banjo, along with his ever-present fiddle.
~ Charles, the third child of Amos and Charlotte Henline, and recognized leader of the group, preferred the guitar, and became quite skilled in playing the instrument in his early teens.
Uncle Zeke noted as early as 1932 that the Buzzardtown Tongue Twisters entertained the Posey Run School with a musical program. That year, Charlie was thirteen and James fourteen years of age. The Buzzardtown Tongue Twisters also played for the Orlando School on several occasions and performed at dances in Burnsville. Waitman Collins remembers that the Buzzardtown Tongue Twisters would go anywhere to play their music. Eventually, the three Henline pickers and singers developed a repertoire of 262 songs, ranging over country and western, religious, Negro-related, novelty, and popular music of the day.
Charlie's daughter Jackie (Henline) Bowser recalls that her father and her uncle James, while still teenagers, appeared on a West Virginia radio show with Homer and Jethro and fiddler Gary Blakeman. Their stepmother Mabel (Posey) Henline Eagle recalls that her stepsons James and Charlie gave performances on the radio in the Cincinnati area. Olive's daughter, Joyce Brannon, recently donated seven of her uncles’ records made in 1943 under the labels Wilcox-Gay and Philco to the West Virginia Archives and History in Charleston in order to preserve their legacy to music lovers.

From Posey Run to Burnsville
The Amos Henline family moved from Buzzardtown to Burnsville in December 1935. Charlie and Jammy were in high school and Olive married that year. It was a loss to Buzzardtown, as was noted by Uncle Zeke in his Buzzardtown News column. Uncle Zeke’s wife was the sister of Amos Henline’s mother so it also meant the loss of a nephew and his family. In addition, Uncle Zeke was sorry to see Olive move and to show his sense of loss he wrote to Olive a little poem
To Olive
There is a maid in our town,
A darling niece of mine.
She is so very blithe and gay.
Someone nicknamed her “Shine.”

She is so very kind and good,
You couldn’t help but love her.
I know you’d never if you could,
Praise someone else above her.

She is very young, and so discreet,
Most beautiful to behold.
She’s fair in form, in manner sweet,
She’s worth her weight in gold.

I hope that on judgment morn,
When all the saints shall rise,
That Olive in a spirit form
Will meet me in the skies.

Soon my days on earth will cease,
For I am growing weak.
But Olive, still you’ll be my niece
And I, your Uncle Zeke.
Obviously touched by her Uncle Zeke’s sentiment and affection, Olive responded to Uncle Zeke’s tribute:
To My Uncle Zeke
There is a man in Buzzardtown,
Not handsome, so to speak.
For he is none other
Than my Uncle Zeke.

Some people think him funny,
And some don’t think him so.
But he seems to make friends,
So we’ll not count him slow.

I think him a jolly old fellow,
To me always the same.
And I shall always love him
As long as Zeke is his name.

I’ll remember that dear old face
And do for him all I can,
For to me he is always the same,
And is such a dear old man.

So may God bless and keep him
As good as he is today.
And may he not forget me
When he kneels down to pray.
And now the friends of Buzzardtown
Join with me and speak,
That we shall always love him,
As long as he is Uncle Zeke.

Olive Henline graduated from Burnsville High School in 1933 and was chosen along with fellow seniors Mavis Bush, Louise Fletcher, Gwendolyn Martin and Gladys Tyo to present musical entertainment during the commencement ceremony. Olive added a sparkle to the eyes of all who knew her, was effervescent, and lit up the room with her lyrical soprano voice..
In 1935, Olive married Bruce Brannon, a native of Gilmer County, a graduate of Glenville State Teacher’s College, a school teacher and most importantly, a musician. Bruce, while in high school, bought a violin 3 and taught himself to play by ear. After commencing college at Glenville, Bruce realized that he needed to learn the more formal aspects of music. Bruce inquired of Bertha Olsen, the college music teacher, for lessons. Miss Olsen bargained with Bruce and proposed that if he would join the college orchestra, she would give him tutorials on the violin. Eager for the opportunity, Bruce became a member of the college orchestra, and developed a love of classical music in addition to the “down home” music of the West Virginia hills.
Bruce often played with his brothers-in-law, James and Charles Henline, and Olive provided the sterling vocal arrangements in both informal family settings and at musical engagements throughout the central West Virginia area. The Henline siblings and their brother-in-law, Bruce Brannon also played under the name “BT Serenaders,” the “BT” of course standing for “Buzzardtown.”
Olive (Henline) Brannon gave birth to two children, Robert in 1936 and Joyce Carole in 1937. A devoted mother, Olive’s life would be far too short, passing away in 1946 at the age of 32. Helen Jeffries remembers the Orlando community was much saddened by Olive’s untimely death. Olive, despite her terminal illness, managed to visit friends and relatives in the Orlando area to say her goodbyes. The name of Olive’s daughter, Joyce Carole, translates into “Joyful Song,” which is a fitting legacy to her mother.
Left: Bruce and Olive with Joyce Carole and Robert. Click on this photo to see the detail.

James Henline, known as “Jimmy” to his family and friends, had health problems most of his life, and did not excel in traditional learning. Jimmy however was very adept in the field of electricity and a master of anything that had a sound board or plugged into an electrical outlet. Jimmy, at a young age, began a business in Burnsville repairing radios, and wiring homes when electricity was still in its infancy. Jimmy’s step-mother Mabel (Henline) Eagle recalls that in the 1930s Jimmy and Denver Barnett, an Orlando native living in Burnsville, rigged up a telegraph system between their respective homes in Burnsville and “dotted and dashed” each other to stay in touch. Mabel also recalls that Jimmy crafted a bass fiddle when he lived in the “Bottom” area of Burnsville but that it was unfortunately destroyed by the flood of 1943.
Right: Jimmy is playing the jew's harp with his brother, Charlie, on guitar.

In the late 1930s Jimmy left Burnsville and went to Norfolk, Virginia to work in a defense plant. He was married briefly to Wilma Dennison and when that union collapsed, Jimmy left Norfolk and went to Cincinnati to work near his brother and musical partner, Charlie. Jimmy opened a electrical business, J & J Electric, in the Cincinnati area and worked in the electrical field for the remainder of his life. Jimmy and Charlie continued their avocation of playing music in the Cincinnati area and frequently returned to their home in Burnsville with their fiddle and guitar on holidays and vacations to entertain the homefolks with music. .
Charlie Henline graduated from Burnsville High School in 1939. Charlie was selected by Autumn Amos as the drum major for the newly formed Burnville High School band. Charlie also played football for a rugged and successful Burnsville High School football team until a serious knee injury ended his gridiron career. Of course, this meant Charlie had more time for music. Charlie was not only a skillful guitar player but was also an excellent singer.
To the left is Charlie as the BHS band's drum major.
To the right is Charlie's graduation picture.
Below, to the left, Charlie as an adult.
Waitman Collins recalls that Charlie Henline, Andy Knight, Kenny Gifford and he would go out on the railroad tracks near the B & O trestle over the Little Kanawha River at night and sing songs “for the fun of it,” and would sometimes serenade Rhody Rollyson, a large lady who lived on the bank above the road near the trestle. After Rhody had been serenaded long enough, she would stand up on the porch and tell the boys that “It’s time for you bullfrogs to go home to bed.”
Which Way To Cincinatti?
Waitman Collins also recalls that James and Charles Henline eventually settled in the Cincinnati area as a result of a mistake. Wanting to go to Charleston , they flagged a bus they thought was going to that city, but instead ended up in Cincinnati . Not having enough money to return, the brothers ended up settling permanently in the southwestern Ohio. However, Mabel Henline Eagle, Charlie’s stepmother, recalls it differently. Mabel recollects that after graduating from high school in 1939, Charlie and his friend Kenneth Gifford decided to go to Cincinnati for employment and that Jimmy joined them later when his marriage to Wilma Dennison ended.

Whatever the case, Charlie became employed by Sears Roebuck Company in Cincinnati as an appliance salesman and worked there his entire career. Of course, Charlie still played and taught others to play the guitar, and played musical engagements at social clubs, political rallies, private homes and anywhere else there was a need. Charlie often came back to West Virginia to visit family and friends in Burnsville and Orlando. Charlie’s guitar accompanied him everywhere he went and it was played every chance Charlie got to entertain a music-loving ear.

To the left, in the 1980s, Charlie is teaching a new generation of music makers. Click on this photo to see the detail.

Neither James nor Charlie Henline enjoyed good health as adults. Both brothers had several operations in their later years. Marlene Henline, wife of James, recalls that during their seven years of marriage her husband had eleven operations. Joyce Brannon was with her niece Jackie (Henline) Bowser when Charlie was entered into a nursing home after developing Alzheimer’s disease. This crippling disease however did not diminish Charlie’s love of music and he continued to play his guitar in the nursing home (when he wasn’t trying to escape) according to his niece, Joyce Brannon.
Charlie Henline died in 2001, joining his sister Olive, and his brother Jimmy who passed away in 1979. Thus came to an end the music of the Buzzardtown Tongue Twisters and BT Serenaders. Can’t you hear them singing from Charlie’s song book?

There are loved ones in the glory,
Whose dear forms you often miss;
When you close your earthly story,
Will you join them in their bliss.

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, by and by.
Is a better home a-waiting
In the sky, in the sky? 4
. . . . . . .
~ Go to Aug '07entry B & O Freight Train Meets Amos Henline’s Cow to hear a parody penned by Charlie and recently sung by his daughter Jackie.
~ Another Orlando group was the
Cole Brothers Band.
See theFeb '07 entry The Cole Brothers Band

1. Uncle Zeke, the Bard of Buzzardtown, has often been the source of stories on this website. His writings have enriched the preserved the history of Orlando and the surrounding area. "Uncle Zeke" is the pen name of Patrick Newton Blake (1867-1951) born on Clover Fork, made his home near the confluence of Posey Run and Oil Creek. For more on Uncle Zeke, see entries for December '06 Trouble At Uncle Zeek's House and October '06 Uncle Zeke From Buzzard Town
2. Walter Blake was the brother of Charlotte Blake, the first wife of Amos Henline. Walter worked for the Philadelphia Gas Company. In mid-life, Walter sustained a broken neck and for the remainder of his life wore a metal back brace with a heavy rubber band attached to the back brace which looped over Walter’s forehead in order to hold his head erect. Boys of the area, referencing the rubber band type device, called Walter “Old Slingshot.” Walter was a member of another band referred to as the “Buzzardtown Hillbillies”. Sam Bragg was also a member of that band.

3. The violin bought by Bruce Brannon while in high school is now owned by his grandson, Donald L. Lambert, Jr., who is shown to the right playing his grandfather’s fiddle.

4. These words from the song, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” were writen by Ada Habershon.

comment 1 Joyce Brannon
Joyce Brannon
, daughter of Olive (Henline) Brannon, is also musically talented. As a ten year old child she rode her bicycle six miles to Hurst, Gilmer County, to take piano lessons. Joyce Carole graduated from Glenville State College with a degree in Music and is a retired teacher in Richmond, Virginia.
Joyce Brannon is pictured to the left.
Joyce tells us that her Uncle Charlie and a companion (Waitman Collins says it was Charlie’s brother, James), flagged down a Greyhound bus which they assumed was going to Charleston. The bus driver negotiated a fare with them and accepted what money they had for the ride. There was apparently no discussion about where the bus was heading and instead of Charleston the bus ended up in Cincinnati. Thus began the Henline exodus to Cincinnati. All four Henline brothers, Jake, Pat, Charlie and Jimmy (The four brothers are pictured to the right) ended up in Cincinnati eventually. After high school, Joyce, their niece, also migrated to Cincinnati for employment, but returned shortly afterward to commence college at Glenville State.
comment 2 Jackie (Henline) Bowser (Charlie and Idella’s daughter)
When I was young my father would sit on the bed in the bedroom I shared with my sister Darlene, singing and playing the guitar. My mother in the next room would say “Charlie, let those girls go to sleep,” to which my father would reply, “They want to hear one more song.” . . .You know who wanted one last song.
To the right is Jackie with her parents Charlie and Idella Henline. Be sure to click on this photo to catch the detail.

comment 3
Amos Henline’s cousin, Earl “Red” Henline, son of Loyd and Virginia (Slaughter) Henline, was a noted fiddle player from a young age. He played with the Sons of the Pioneers, Vaughn Monroe, and competed on Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour. Earl was also state champion fiddler of five states. Earl "Red" Henline died in 1999 in Buckhannon. His story was recently told in the Goldenseal Magazine
Red and Theresa Henline are at the left.

comment 4 Jackie (Henline) Bowser
Dear David,
Thank you for all the work you've done and all of the wonderful memories. I was one of the blessed children who had a happy child hood. You brought back that joy. By the way I do know the tune to the "Amos Henline's Cow" song. You were right that wasn't a song that was performed for anyone except family. As children we heard it over and over again. At my Dad's funeral in March, 2001 a cousin from my Mom's side of the family came up to me and said what he remembered most about visiting our home was that people were always smiling. What a joy.
Thanks again. Blessings,
Jackie (Henline) Bowser
Comment 5 . David Parmer
The author wishes to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Joyce Carole Brannon in the writing of this article. Much of the information for this article originated with Joyce who also provided most of the photographic material. Without her encouragement and support this article would not have been possible.
Carole's photo is to the right.


  1. Thank you for the terrific information and a glimpse of our talented family! My dad, John Henline, often told stories about all the music the family enjoyed together. What a surprise to find this blog. Thank you again for the memories and some new information. Sincerely, Amy Louise (Henline) Owens

  2. I am a grandson of Amos and Mable Henline. Hereis an additional legend of Earl "Red" Henline. They did not call Uncle Earl Red because of his hair. They called him red because he worn a long sleeve red sweat shirt under his base ball uniform. Uncle Red fast ball was so fast the other teams claimed he pitch liked the devil. That's how Uncle Red got his nickname as Red!!