This week, Eli & guest host Nathan Salsburg do a special episode on the music and politics of Nimrod Workman- Kentucky coal miner, union organizer, song writer and ballad singer. They play a bunch of his songs and and spoken segments, and then in the last quarter of the show play tracks from some associated musicians. They also discuss the current situation in Kentucky coal mining, including the horrendous practice of mountain top removal mining. Nathan Salsburg hosts the internet radio show “Roothog or Die” on East Village Radio. He is the production manager at the Alan Lomax Archive.
Nimrod Workman was an extraordinary character. He was born in Kentucky and started working in the mines as a young teenager, he was a socialist, a powerful and effective and funny public speaker, and a union organizer. He knew Mother Jones and was involved in the West Virginia Mine War of 1920-21, the largest labor uprising in American history. He was an excellent singer of ballads and also wrote his own songs. Late in life he began a career as a ballad singer, playing at folk festivals and other venues. In 1986 he recieved a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He had black lung from working in the mines, smoked unfiltered cigarettes and lived to be 99 years old.
Nimrod Workman was in several films:
A documentary about him called “Nimrod Workman: To Fit My Own Category,” produced by Appalshop Films. He appeared as himself in the documentaries “Harlan County, USA,” “Chase the Devil: Religious Music of the Appalachians,” and “The Grand Generation.” He also appeared in “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” which also featured Phyllis Boyens (his daughter).
For more information on the West Virginia Mine War, read Robert Shogan’s excellent book “The Battle of Blair Mountain”