About The Artist
Ernest Van Stoneman ranked as one the most important country music recording stars having his first releases on the OKeh label in 1925. In the next few years he had dozens of additional recordings on various labels including Edison, Gennett, and Victor. After 1928 his career began to decline somewhat and hit bottom with the onset of the Great Depression. As the father of a large family that relocated to the DC area, they survived years of dire poverty, persisted in music, and eventually climbed back to prominence.
Stoneman was born in 1893 in the Iron Ridge community near the Carroll-Grayson County line in the Blue Ridge area of southwest Virginia, one of the nation's richest section's repositories of traditional music. He grew up absorbing that culture from childhood. When he married Hattie Frost in November 1918, an even more musical family than his own, his musical immersion went even deeper. Meanwhile, he learned the carpenter trade and was working at that occupation in Bluefield, West Virginia when he heard the first recordings of Henry Whitter. Believing that he could do as good or better, Ernest began saving his money to go to New York and try out. He did so in November 1924 and visited the office of the General Phonograph Company (OKeh Records). Upon hearing the demos, he thought he had recorded them a bit fast and decided to do them over in February 1925. His first release "The Titanic"/"The Face that Never Returned" sold quite well and inaugurated a career that would endure (with a long break in the middle) until the age of stereo. With the growth of the town of Galax it became his home base.
Stoneman's early recordings for OKeh were done under the direction and management of A & R pioneer Ralph Peer and when Peer moved from that label to Victor, Ernest went with him in 1926 (although he still did sessions with OKeh in 1927). He also recorded for Edison where his sessions were released on both disc and cylinder. Avoiding exclusive contracts, he also recorded for Gennett where the recordings also appeared on Champion and a variety of Sears-Roebuck labels. In 1927, he did a session for the Plaza Corporation where his masters appeared on Banner and other labels. This meant that he often cut the same titles for more than one firm with releases under a bewildering assortment of names.
In late July 1927, Peer, with help from Stoneman, held field recordings in Bristol which included not only his own string band (known sometimes as the Dixie Mountaineers or the Blue Ridge Cornshuckers, later as the Stoneman Family), but several other groups including the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. Ironically, the latter two would have careers that eclipsed his own.
Members of his own band included such figures as his wife Hattie, in-laws Bolin and Irma Frost, fiddler Kahle Brewer and wife Edna, Walter Mooney, and his wife's cousin Alex "Uncle Eck" Dunford who would record several solo numbers featuring his unique voice and droll humor.
Stoneman did additional sessions for Victor, Gennett, and Edison in 1928. In 1929, he was on recordings credited to Frank Jenkins, Oscar Jenkins (on Paramount), and Fields Ward. His work with the latter was under the name Justin Winfield, but most of them were not released until the 1960s. His recording career was on the wane and with the onset of the Great Depression he and teen-age son Eddie had a session for Vocalion in 1934. Thereafter he cut no more discs until 1960 with the more modern Stoneman Family. However, some of the numbers recorded in this early era that were unreleased later came out on various LP and CD collections.
Following the crash of October 1929, much of Stoneman's musical and carpenter work began to dry up. Having signed notes for other friends, he soon faced financial disaster. By 1932, his home was repossessed and he escaped other creditors by the skin of his teeth. With his ever growing family, they survived dire poverty in Washington, D. C. until World War II when they moved from dire to mid-level poverty. After the war, he and some of his children revived their careers as The STONEMAN FAMILY (q. v.).
The children of Ernest and Hattie Stoneman:
Credits & Sources
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