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Kelly Harrell
Born:  September 13, 1889
Died:  July 9, 1942

About The Artist

Kelly Harrell ranked as one of the most notable old time singers in the early days of recorded country music. Between 1925 and 1929, he placed some thirty-seven numbers on disc.

Although spending most of his adolescent and adult life working in textile mills, first in Fries, and then Fieldale, Virginia, his Victor and Okeh recordings were nearly all memorable.

Crockett Kelly Harrell was born in Draper's Valley in Wythe County, Virginia and went to work in the mill at Fries, perhaps around 1904. He eventually became a loom fixer, a skill somewhat above that of the average mill operative. He also developed a fine singing voice, but never learned to play an instrument and later refused to do so. Harrell became acquainted with other figures in Fries who made recordings including Henry Whitter and Ernest Stoneman. Henry Whitter made records first although Harrell initially showed little interest, later changing his mind. In January 1925, Harrell placed four traditional songs on Victor discs accompanied by studio musicians.

Later that year Kelly changed his work place to the Fieldcrest Mill in Fieldale near Martinsville, Virginia and also recorded for OKeh in Asheville, North Carolina. At that session musical accompaniment was furnished by none other than Henry Whitter. Of the ten numbers, two appeared on 12-inch discs with each song having a running time of over three and one half minutes. All were either traditional or Victorian era otherwise forgotten popular songs.

Promo Ad - My Horses Ain't Hungry - Kelly Harrell - 1928 Early in 1926, Harrell returned to Victor again, re-recording by the electrical process the four songs he had made earlier and did nine additional songs, again with studio musician accompaniment, but somewhat more sympathetic in tone.

Kelly Harrell's music peaked in 1927 when the Victor management allowed bringing traditional musicians from his home locality for accompaniment. These included North Carolina Rambler fiddler Posey Rorer and fellow millworkers R. D. Hundley and Alfred Steagall on respective banjo and guitar. These sessions resulted in some real classics of old time music such as "Shadow of the Pine," "My Wife Has Gone and Left Me," "My Name Is John Johannah," "Nobody's Darling on Earth"; the murder ballads "Henry Clay Beattie," and "Charles Giteau [sic];" and the sacred duets with Henry Norton "Row Us over the Tide" and "I Have No Loving Mother Now."

Headlines - 1927 - Bristol Recording Sessions - Kelly Harrell The local Bristol newspaper told readers that Ralph S. Peer was in town and recordings were to take place on July 20 - 22, 1927. Ernest Stoneman and Kelly Harrell were expected to be a part of the recording sessions. Kelly was living in Fieldale, near the town of Martinsville, VA. He had made an impression on the company with his recording of "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane."

The musicians on Harrell's 1929 sessions were limited to only one chosen by him-Alfred Steagall-although studio musician Roy Smeck was competent. "The Henpecked Man" and the eerie "I Heard Somebody Call My Name" have an integrity all their own. Victor informed Kelly that henceforth he would have to learn an instrument or hire his own musicians. This he refused to do and as a result never recorded again. He did, however, continue to draw writer royalties for his composition "Away Out on the Mountain" which had been a hit as recorded by Jimmie Rodgers. He also composed "Story of the Mighty Mississippi" that had been recorded by Ernest Stoneman.

Harrell had kept his job at the mill as a loom fixer. He also sang at local functions and in the church choir. Like many mill workers, asthma troubled his health. Hospitalized in 1942, he returned to work after being told by doctors to avoid exertion. Back on the job, he wanted to demonstrate he was as healthy as the next fellow. During a work break, he jumped out of a window, took four or five steps and collapsed, expiring en-route to the hospital.

He was married to Lula Carico Harrell

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com would like to express its thanks to Ivan M. Tribe, author of Mountaineer Jamboree — Country Music in West Virginia and other books that can be found on Amazon.com and numerous articles in other publications for providing us with information about this artist.
  • Representatives Of Victor Talking Machine Co., To Make Records Here; July 13, 1927; Bristol Herald Courier; Bristol, TN

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

Montgomery Ward
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  4330 A Hand Me Down My Walking Cane
  4367 A Rovin' Gambler
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  40095 A I was Born About 10,000 Years Ago
  40095 A I?m Going Back to North Carolina
  40095 A I Was Born in Pennsylvania
  40095 A The Wreck of the Southern Old 97
  40095 B Wild Bill Jones
  40095 B Be at Home Soon Tonight My Dear Boy
  40095 B Peg and Awl
  40095 B Blue Eyed Ella
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  19563 A Butcher's Boy
  19563 B I Wish I Was A Single Girl Again
  19596 A New River Train
  19596 B Rovin' Gambler
  20103 A Hand Me Down My Walking Cane
  20103 B My Horses Ain't Hungry
  20171 A Rovin' Gambler
  20171 B New River Train
  20280 A Oh! Molly Dear Go Ask Your Mother
  20280 B Broken Engagement
  20527 A Dying Hobo
  20527 B Bright Sherman Valley
  20535 A Bye and By You Will Forget Me
  20535 B Beneath the Weeping Willow
  20657 A The Shadow of the Pine
  20657 B I?m Nobody?s Darling
  20797 A Charles Giteau
  20797 B Henry Clay Beattie
  20867 A I Love My Sweetheart the Best
  20867 B I Want a Nice Little Fellow
  20935 A Row Us Over the Tide (with Henry Norton)
  20935 B I Have No Loving Mother Now (with Henry Norton)
  21059 A For Seven Long Years I?ve Been Married
  21059 B Charley, He?s a Good Old Man
  21520 A My Name Is John Johannah
  21520 B My Wife Has Gone and Left Me
  23689 A Henpecked Man
  23689 B Cave Love Has Gained the Day
  23747 A I Heard Somebody Call My Name
  23747 B (not Kelly Harrell, but Bob Miller)
  40047 A The Cuckoo, She?s a Fine Bird
  40047 B Oh, My Pretty Monkey
  40095 A She Just Kept Kissing On
  40095 B All My Sins Are Taken Away
  VI40047 A Oh My Pretty Monkey
  VI40047 B The Cuckoo's A Fine Bird
  VI40095 A She Just Kept Kissing On
  VI40095 B All My Sins Are Taken Away

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