“I made this song to fit my own category,” Nimrod Workman says of one of his own compositions. His own category is one of the biggest; for his music, his speech, his perceptions, and the history of his life stretch from ancient ballads to Watergate; from the Appalachia of small farms to the Appalachia of coal miners; from Mother Jones to Arnold Miller. Mention anything about the history of the Southern mountains in this century: Nimrod Workman was in the middle of it.
Born in 1885 in Martin County, Kentucky, Nimrod Workman worked in deep coal mining for 42 years. He was in the middle of union organizing since the 1920’s, and remembers Mother Jones visiting the coal camps. His childhood was filled with the ancient ballads and hymns of his Anglo-American heritage. His earliest singing experiences came at church homecomings. He also remembers singing at bean stringings, where he sang, not for cash, but for free meals and drinks.
Phyllis Boyens was born in Chattaroy in 1947, the next-to-the-youngest of the eleven children that Nimrod and Mollie have raised to adulthood; and from her earliest days she has lived with music. She learned the old Child Ballads on her father’s lap, and heavily influenced by the music of the Baptist church. She began singing in church at age four.
Phyllis and Nimrod performed in the Academy Award-winning film, Harlan County USA., and Phyllis also appeared as a featured actress in Universal Studio’s Coal Miner’s Daughter, where she portrayed Clara Webb, Loretta Lynn’s mother.
“…a really beautiful album, for which no praise can be too high . . . what makes Passing Thru the Garden such a gem is the authentic intensity of the performances: marvelous evocations of the Appalachian music’s wild classicism.”
– John Storm Roberts, The Press
“Both [Workman and Boyens] are accomplished singers, and a comparison of their styles is instructive of the action of time and acculturation on the tradition over the space of a generation. Phyllis Boyens, who grew up in a rich tradition of singing in family and church, has maintained her involvement in it. Her father has kept listening and learning, singing the music he learned in his childhood without cutting it away from what he hears today. So the two have not been pulled very far apart. They reside clearly within the same tradition.”
– Claudia Gould, Old Time Music, London, England