A family of musicians, the Ray and Nora (Blake) Hall family, lived below Emery Skinner’s farm, in a home owned by Erma Cosner. Ray was the son of Strange and Hestaline (Riffle) Hall and Nora was the daughter of John Jackson "Jack" and Ella Blake. The entire family played music. Among the children, Edna and Lawrence, known as “Bud,” played the banjo, Delis played the harmonica, and Mary played the guitar. My foster mother, Mrs. Holbert sent me to the Hall house each Saturday morning to take banjo lessons from Edna. Unfortunately, I only learned which end of the banjo to hold. -Nina (Smarr)
by David Parmer and Loretta (Morrison) Roehrs
“He sleeps on the couch by the door with a gun,” Edna Scott said of her brother, Hilary Blake, and continued, “He’s afraid someone will break in and rob him. He can’t sleep in his bed because that‘s where he keeps his guns.” Explaining one of the peculiarities of her bachelor brother who lived just up the road in an old mobile home on the Orlando side of Arnold Hill, Edna mused, “He’s been a bachelor so long, he can’t stand people and people can’t stand him.”
Right: Hilary Blake in 1936 in Lewisburg, WV
Dale Barnett recalls that when Hilary was young he would do a little work for Lee Blake who operated a saw mill on Clover Fork. Hilary was handy with his hands and worked in Lee’s shop doing repair work on the saw mill equipment, a little blacksmithing, building sleds, and maybe a little carpentry work. “Hilary would drift in and then drift out,” recalled Dale. Opal Blake Hall also recalls Hilary from her youth in Orlando. Hilary was considerably older than Opal but she would see him around Orlando frequently. She recalled that Hilary made dulcimers and concluded that Hilary must have done a lot of his work outside because he had a chronically sunburned neck.
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A Musical Introduction
Above right: generic ductwork schematics.
Below right: We have no photos yet of Hilary's duclcimers, but here are two examples of WV dulcimers roughly from Hilary's time, from the website of Ron Gibson.
Right: We don't know what Hilary Blake's dulcimers looked like. Dulcimers can be made in many forms and kinds of wood. These two examples by contemporary craftsman Ron Gibson suggest the variety of designs possible.
"A family of Blakes . . . lived on Clover Fork, near Orlando . . . a colorful family, many of the members go by nicknames. Hillary or 'Hilly' Blake was born on Clover Fork in 1911. He was a fiddle and dulcimer maker. He recalled that his uncle, Stewart Blake, hewed a dulcimer out of a fence rail. "Bunk" Blake either 'made or helped to make' instruments. Amos or "Daddy" Blake also became involved with making instruments. "Tater" Blake has an old chestnut dulcimer made by Stewart with an elaborately carved peg head. Hilly remembered that in hard times, Stewart made his strings out of old broom wire. I asked Audra Van Noy, who has an old dulcimer made by Stewart and [her dad] Bunk Blake, if had been written inside. She said no, neither one of them could read or write." -Central West Virginia historian Gerald Milnes, from the chapter about dulcimers in his 1999 book Play of a Fiddle. (pg. 142)
See the entry Music in the Hills: Making Instruments.
Note 2: Milne's material on the Blakes' production of musical instruments connects Hilary strongly with his great uncle's, Steward McClung Blake's, family. (See Note 1). Perhaps there was also a connection in tin work? We know now that Hilary Blake was a tinner. Uncle Zeke reported in 1936 that Bunk Blake was making sugar scoops made out of tin cans which his neighbor Emory “Possum” Skinner was selling for him. Scoops were a traditional part of the old-time tinner's repertory.