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Basil Henry Jackson Blake

Basil Henry Jackson Blake

Male 1912 - 1985

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  • Name  Basil Henry Jackson Blake  [1, 2, 3
    Born  23 Sep 1912  Braxton County, West Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location  [4, 5
    Gender  Male 
    Census  1920  Burnsville, Braxton County, West Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    • Bassil H. Blake, son, male, white, age 9, single, attended school since September 1919, could not read, could not write, born in West Virginia, father's birthplace West Virginia, mother's birthplace West Virginia, occupation none
    Census  1930  Salt Lick District, Braxton County, West Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location  [6
    • Basal H. Blake, son, male, white, age 17, single, did not attend school since September 1929, could not read or write, born in West Virginia, father's birthplace West Virginia, mother's birthplace West Virginia, state code: 75, could speak English, occupation laborer, nature of industry farmer, occupation code VOVV, not paid, actively employed at time of census
    Died  Mar 1985  [4
    Magazine/Book Article  1999  [7
    Play of a Fiddle: Traditional Music, Dance, and Folklore in West Virginia 
    • [page 138] ...The unanswered questions are when, why, and where did the instrument [dulcimer] change from the German zither type to the "mountain" style. In The Story of the Dulcimer, Ralph Smith promotes a theory that the older fretted zithers simply became the hollow fingerboard of the mountain dulcimer. One thing that can be proved is that both instrument types existed side by side in West Virginia. Many instruments, including some very old examples, have turned up in northern West Virginia within a family collection.

      By the time the dulcimer hit its peak in central West Virginia, as found in Braxton County, German ties to the instrument had completely dissolved and its identity had become regional. The instrument in central West Virginia, although associated with a time period, more importantly is now part of a regional tradition. This presents the difference between a popular movement and a folk tradition.

      Regardless of the instrument's origins, a rich tradition of dulcimer making and playing exists in southern and central West Virginia. I identified eighteen traditional builders who made and played dulcimers in Braxton County. All but one came before the earliest revival date, placed by L. Allen Smith at 1940. Some of these makers made only a few instruments. The widespread recent revival of the instrument had little effect on Braxton County until well after 1960. As late as the mid 1970s people whose only influences were older traditional makers in their family or neighborhood made dulcimers. Basil Blake made and helped make dulcimers from the 1920s until his death in the mid 1980s.

      Lola Blake Cutlip remembered her Uncle Henry Gerwig (1866-1938), a dulcimer maker of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She owned a dulcimer he made for "Aunt Maude," his spouse. Cutlip described how Aunt Maude played her dulcimer with a goose quill. Henry Gerwig became a fine wood worker and an industrious and respected member of the "German" community on Steer Creek in Braxton County. Other German families in the community were Engels, Whitsels, ... [page 139, 140, and 141 are not in the book preview at Google]

      ***

      [page 142] Junior Lloyd of Napier in Braxton County made a dulcimer about 1951 that he patterned after one made by Basil Blake. Lloyd grew up with dulcimers, having learned to play one as a child in the 1930s. As far as I can tell, he had no outside influence in making his own dulcimer in the fifties. He is still an active player and has taught some tunes to his granddaughter, who also does not seem to have been influenced by any national revival of the instrument.

      Members of the Jack Blake family remembered that brother Lora (pronounced Lory) brought home a dulcimer pattern when he returned from World War I. The story differs among siblings, with the most popular being that he got the pattern in France or Germany. Another, the more probable version, has him getting it from a fellow soldier. Hobart Blake said it was an actual dulcimer his brother brought home and that he "took a pattern from it." Hobart also remembered that dulcimers were in the are long before Lora went away to the war, and it is easy to document pre-World War I instruments in the area. Jack Keith made a dulcimer that was brought to Beatrice Metheny's farm by her mother on horseback, in 1899.

      The youngest (sic) member of the Blake family of Bragg Run was Basil, who, as previously mentioned, started making dulcimers in the 1920s. Sometime in the early fifties Basil rejected the family pattern for a smaller version to make an instrument for a niece. He then continued to make all his dulcimers on the smaller pattern, an event noted frequently by family members. His niece, Reva Fincham, still owns and plays the first "little one" he made. Reva has been playing dulcimer since she was a child. She has four or five uncles who made or helped make dulcimers, more than a dozen relatives who could play, and she married into a dulcimer playing family.

      Hobart Blake was born in 1900 (sic) and is now the oldest living Blake family member. He remembered how the old dulcimers were made by family members in the teens and twenties.

      [Lora] brung that dulcimer up there, and he laid it down on a paper and marked around it. About a month or two after that, he went into it, and I helped him plane the boards, and he made one. Somebody brung it [the first one he saw] in here from way off. Some of John Dean's people, I can't think of who it was brung it in there. I can remember seeing it. Just exactly like that one. It was put together mighty poorly, had it pinned together with pins. It didn't sound good. When we got this pattern here and made these, they cut down in the edge of them and set the rim down in it. Lora was a good carpenter. He heated them bands and put them in the press. When they got dry, they just set down in there and just fit exactly. He made several of them. Reva's got one. Basil made several of them at Cedarville. As soon as he was big enough to go to work [Basil started making them].

      Jack Keith was a stave mill man. I worked for him there. Reuben [another brother] and Lora made some dulcimers. They made one for Jack Keith. They made one for a man over on Cedar Creek. Oh, my God they made lots of them.... We made lots of them, but I never cared nothing about them. I helped make them, but when they's made I was done with them. I helped sand the stuff down and helped glue them together. Make clamps to hold them together till they dried. Make wooden clamps out of a board. Them necks is made hollow. First they made-- they made 'em solid. Didn't sound right. They took the neck out of it, and I helped them with a backin' chisel. Cut it out inside and made it thin on each side of the neck. It sounded good.

      They made 'em out of chestnut before the chestnut trees got too bad and got those worm holes in 'em. Chestnut wood used to be nice wood--made awful good lumber. It was light. After it dried it was perfectly light....

      Back at that time you couldn't hardly get boards thin enough to make a dulcimer. The first ones we made, we sawed an inch board open with a crosscut saw. Fix a place to hold it, and one got up above and one sawed it under. Then, planed it as thin as we could get it. I've worked hours planing them things for it.

      The Blakes of Bragg Run were distantly related to another family of Blakes who lived on Clover Fork, near Orlando on the northern edge of Braxton County. A colorful family, many of the members go by nicknames. Hillary, or "Hilly," Blake was born on Clover Fork in 1911. He was a dulcimer and fiddle maker. He recalled that his uncle, Stewart Blake, "hewed a dulcimer out of a fence rail." "Bunk" Blake either "made or helped to make" dulcimers. Amos or "Daddy" Blake, also became involved with making dulcimers. "Tater" Blake has an old chestnut one made by Stewart with an elaborately carved peghead. Hilly remembered, that in hard times, Stewart made his strings out of old broom wire. I asked Audra Van Noy, who had an old dulcimer made by Stewart and Bunk Blake, if the instrument had any writing on the inside. She said, "No, neither one of them could read or write."
    Occupation 
    • An article about Basil's sister, Sarah Blake Singleton, stated Basil brought a dulcimer back from France in World War I. This was incorrect. Basil was a mere child then, and his brother Lora brought the instrument back. Apparently many members of the family participated in making dulcimers, though Basil seems to be the most remembered. The following entry was found in the book, Directory of Contemporary American Musical Instrument Makers, by Susan Caust Farrell, published 1981 by the University of Missouri Press, ISBN 0826203221:

      Basil Blake; Rt. 2, Box 20, Exchange, W. Va. 26619; PT 1933; Active, 1 emp., Iowa Historical 4/76. Appalachian dulcimer. Over 50 to date. 25-50 per year
    Research 
    • Snippet from an article found online at the West Virginia Division of Culture and History web site. It is an excerpt from an article found in the Winter 1996 issue of Goldenseal magazine:

      Mountain Music Roundup
      By Danny Williams

      ...A CD re-issue of the classic The Music Never Dies: A Vandalia Sampler 1977-1987 is the biggest news literally. The two-disc set (formerly a double LP) features over 40 pieces by about 70 musicians, selected from stage performances at the annual Memorial Day showcase of West Virginia's finest.

      Several of the musicians represented on The Music Never Dies continue to perform, but many others have passed away. Among the most rarely-recorded pioneers of our music appearing here are quirky fiddler Ira Mullins, lap dulcimer patriarch Basil Blake, fiddler Delbert Hughes, hammered dulcimer legend Russell Fluharty, and Clay County fiddle stylist Lee Triplett. No other recording even approaches The Music Never Dies for presenting the huge variety of West Virginia music, and we are fortunate that this treasure remains accessible.
    Social Security Administration Information 
    • Basil Blake; born: 23 September 1912; died: March 1985; last residence: 26611 (Cedarville, Gilmer, West Virginia); last benefit: (none specified); Social Security #: 234-32-4093; state where issued: West Virginia
    Person ID  I38524  All Families
    Last Modified  31 Mar 2015 

    Father  John Jackson "Jack" Blake,   b. Feb 1874, West Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Mother  Biddie Jane Bragg,   b. 9 Apr 1878, Braxton County, West Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 13 Feb 1941, Salt Lick District, Braxton County, West Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location 
    West Virginia Marriage Records  3 Sep 1894  Braxton County, West Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location  [5
    • Marriage License. West Virginia: Page 423; County of Braxton. To-wit: To any person licensed to Celebrate Marriages: You are hereby authorized to join together in the holy state of Matrimony; according to the Rites and Ceremonies of your Church or Religious Denomination, and the laws of the State of West Virginia, Jack Blake and Biddie J. Bragg. Given under my hand, as Clerk of the County Court of the County of Braxton, this 3rd day of September 1874. C. K. Newlon, Clerk County Court of Braxton County. Clerk's Certificate: Preliminary inquiries and answers thereto, made and ascertained by C. K. Newlon/Clerk of the County Court of the County of Braxton, State of West Virginia relative to Mr. Jack Blake of Braxton County, and State of West Virginia, to whom the accompanying Marriage License is issued. The Full Names of the Parties are as Follows: His full name is Jack Blake, Her full name is (Miss) Biddie J. Bragg; His age is 20, Her age is 17, He was born in Braxton County, State of West Virginia; She was born in Braxton County, State of West Virginia; His place of residence is Braxton County, West Virginia; Her place of residence is Braxton County, West Virginia; The name of the party giving the foregoing information [is] Jack Blake of Braxton County, State of West Virginia. Given under my hand this 3rd day of September, 1894. C. K. Newlon, Clerk County Court. Minister's Return or Endorsement. I, Geo. J. Craft, a minister of the M. E. Church and of the County of Braxton, State of West Virginia do certify that, on the 8th day of September, 1894, at my residence, I united in Marriage the above named and described parties, under authority of the foregoing license. Geo. J. Craft (signature)
    Married  8 Sep 1894  Braxton County, West Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location  [5
    Marriage Documentation
    The Marriage License of Biddie Jane Bragg and John Jackson 'Jack' Blake
    The Marriage License of Biddie Jane Bragg and John Jackson "Jack" Blake
    Biddie and Jack were married September 8, 1894, in Braxton County, West Virginia.
    Family ID  F10810  Group Sheet

    Family 1  Freda Steele 
    Last Modified  21 Jan 2014 
    Family ID  F14271  Group Sheet

    Family 2  Hattie Whitehair,   b. Between 1894 and 1895, Taylor County, West Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Yes, date unknown 
    West Virginia Marriage Records  17 May 1947  Braxton County, West Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location  [5
    • Marriage License Application. To the Clerk of the County Court of Braxton County, West Virginia: Pursuant to the provisions of Section 6, Article 1, Chapter 48, Official Code of W. Va., as amended by Chapter 124 of the Acts of the Legislature of West Virginia, Regular Session 1937, and by Chapter 81 of the Acts of the Legislature of West Virginia, Regular Session 1939, the undersigned hereby makes application for a marriage license, being one of the parties of the contemplated marriage, and makes the following statements in support thereof; The Full Names of the Parties to be Married Are Basil Blake; color: white and Hattie Perkins; color: white; His age is 35; divorced years. Her age is 52; widowed years. He was born at Braxton County, State of West Virginia. She was born at Taylor County, State of West Virginia. His place of residence is Grannys Creek, West Virginia. Her place of residence is Granny Creek, West Virginia; His father's name: Jackson Blake; Mother's name: Biddie Blake; Her father's name: Conrad Whitehair; Mother's name: Belle Whitehair; Degree of relationship, if any (none), Braxton County, West Virginia. Basil Blake (signed)

      State of West Virginia, County of Braxton, To-wit: the applicant named in the foregoing application, being first duly sworn on his oath says that the statement therein is true to the best of his knowledge and belief. Given under my hand this 17th day of May 1947. William W. Jack, Clerk County Court of Braxton County (signed)

      Marriage License. West Virginia, County of Braxton, to-wit: To Any Person Licensed To Celebrate Marriages: You are hereby authorized to join together in the Holy State of Matrimony, according to the rites and ceremonies of your church or religious denomination, and the laws of the State of West Virginia, Basil Blake and Hattie Perkins; color: white, Given Under My Hand, as Clerk of the County Court of the County of Braxton, this 28th day of May, 1947. William W. Jack, Clerk County Court, Braxton County. Clerk County Court of Braxton County.

      Ministers Return or Endorsement. I, Kelley Smith, a a minister of the Gospel do certify, that on the, do certifiy that on the 31st day of May 1947, at Sutton, West Virginia, I united in marriage the above named and described parties under authority of the foregoing license. Kelley Smith
    Married  31 May 1947  Sutton, Braxton County, West Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location  [5
    Marriage Documentation
    The Marriage License of Basil Henry Jackson Blake and Hattie (Whitehair) Perkins
    The Marriage License of Basil Henry Jackson Blake and Hattie (Whitehair) Perkins
    Basil and Hattie were married May 31, 1947, in Sutton, West Virginia.
    Last Modified  21 Jan 2014 
    Family ID  F14273  Group Sheet

  • Photos
    A Dulcimer Made by Basil Henry Jackson Blake
    A Dulcimer Made by Basil Henry Jackson Blake
    Basil Blake (1912-1985) came from a very musical family, and he was known for making dulcimers, a traditional instrument used in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. This dulcimer is in the Augusta Gallery of West Virginia Folklife at the Augusta Heritage Center at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia.

  • Sources 
    1. [S4911] Singleton, Sarah Jane (Blake) - Book Article on Her Musical Talents, John Lilly, (the book was originally published in 1999 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois; the article originally was published in the summer 1992 issue of "Goldenseal" magazine) (Reliability: 3).

    2. [S19] 1920 US Census (Reliability: 3).
      Burnsville, Salt Lick District, Braxton County, West Virginia; enumeration district: 14; supervisor's district: 3, sheet number: 12A, page number: 209; enumeration date: January 20, 1920

    3. [S4171] World Connect - Families of Orlando, West Virginia, (last updated: 2012-04-21 17:15:05 UTC (Sat), contact Donna) (Reliability: 3).

    4. [S776] Social Security Death Index (Reliability: 3).

    5. [S880] West Virginia Marriage Licenses (Reliability: 3).

    6. [S77] 1930 US Census (Reliability: 3).
      Salt Lick District, Braxton County, West Virginia; enumeration district: 4-17, supervisor's district: 7; sheet number: 8B; enumeration date: April 14, 1930

    7. [S11408] Blake Family of Bragg Run - Dulcimer Connections, Gerald Milnes, (published in 1999, University Press of Kentucky; ISBN 0813120802) (Reliability: 3).

    8. [S534] Online Record (Reliability: 3).
      URL: http://www.wvculture.org/goldenseal/mtmusic.html (1/2008)