Nimrod Workman Feature Episode

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 Feature Episode

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).

“The Grand Generation” is available to watch any time, free of charge on the website There’s a lot of good stuff on there, well worth checking out.

For more information on the West Virginia Mine War, read Robert Shogan’s excellent book “The Battle of Blair Mountain”


  1. Chrys Amy Dean

    Thanks for this episode. Nimrod was my great-grandfather, and it’s interesting to see his music move forward on the Internet. He was a wonderful man to hear tell stories as a small child, and my grandmother, his daughter, still tells some of his stories.

  2. mark

    i just discovered the music of Mr.Workman while researching Roscoe Holcomb….Wow Im in hog heaven! Music that gets in the marrow of your bones……keep searching for the good stuff!

  3. Chris

    Working on a poetry collection about Appalachia & this was a valuable resource of an inimitable performer.

  4. Tenille Carroll

    Nimrod was also my great-grandfather…..he died when i was a freshman in highschool. I can remember him vividly…and i loved when he came to visit or we went to TN…..i miss him and mommaw Molly…they were such a wonderful pair!

  5. Doc

    One day in the early 1980s, I was sitting in my office at Jubilee Community Arts in Knoxville, when in walked a somewhat-shabbily dressed little man who informed me: “I’m Nimrod Workman and I sang Amazing Grace in Coal Miner’s Daughter!”

    He wanted to see Fr. Bill Daniels, JCA executive director, about a booking at the Laurel Theatre.

    I must have had a skeptical look on my face, because he immediately rared back and started singing, just as he had in the movie.

    What a voice, what a memorable character. I’m glad I had the privilege of meeting him, if only for a few moments.

  6. adam j workman

    nimrod workman was my grandfather ,father of harvey j workman and husband of my grandother molly , i enjoyed growing up with the exposure of his stories and music . i grew a passion for poetry you can check out my poetry at ( adam workman) The workman pride lives on!

  7. I roomed with Nimrod the last week of Smithsonian’s Bicentennial Festival of American Folklife in 1976. What a memorable time. He was quite a man.

  8. Tia lynn workman-langston

    Nimrod Workman was my PaPa my father was Harvey J Workman {RIP DAD} if my brothers and sisters read this PLEASE contact me at love all of you and miss you Tia lynn Workman-Langston

  9. patty workman

    I am so thrilled to find this site , I wish I knew if he his family came from Ireland. I ran across his name a long time back when doing research on my family tree. I was so lucky to find one of his albums up here in Canada, and I do treasure it.

  10. McKinley Workman

    Nimrod Workman was a great man and a large part of the backbone of the union, as far as I can research we originated from England. I am his grandson, son of Harvey J.

  11. Hi, I heard of a Nimrod Workman in 1972 and went to Chattaroy, WV for a visit and recorded some of his songs on a small cassette. What a joy to talk with him about Mother Jones, his mining experiences and life in general. He was unabashed, knew the story and was an Appalachian treasure. Actually, I was doing research on coal mining and about 4am this morning I awakened by thoughts about Nimrod and wanted to find something on the internet about him. Thanks for the site.

  12. Tenille Carroll

    I am the granddaughter of Gladys Workman Carroll McNeely, and the daughter of Thomas…. I think its wonderful that I can google my great grandpa Nimrod and read stories and hear him sing…it’s so great to see my relatives on here that do the same as me! It’s wonderful to have family legacy as this… And it will be neat to teach my children of there rich family history!

  13. admin

    Hi Jonathan,
    Thanks for writing in. Nimrod sure was great! Regards to you and your family.
    – Eli

  14. Myra Dean

    Thank you so much for this site; I am the eldest daughter of Nimrod”s eldest child Dorothy. I treasure all of my childhood memories of ( WorkPa and WorkMa), names coined by my oldey brother Billy who,as a young child couldn’t quite get grandpa Workman over his tongue. He passed many talents of words and music on to his children and grandchildren. Thankful for our rich family history.

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