The Hicks Family, of the Cumberland Plateau, possesses in collective memory a quantity of ballads that includes many of the oldest and rarest ever kept in family tradition in the United States. Their unaccompanied style of singing has very few presenters in Tennessee or the rest of the country, but the beauty, tragedy, humor, and history in the songs remains through the Hicks Family Singers.
The elders in this project–Daniel Hicks, Freeda Beaty, and Carmen McCord Hicks–are all children of ballad singer Bessford Hicks, who died in the late 1970s. Three of the apprentices–Angela Bailey, Mack Bailey, Erin Bailey–are descendants of Bessford’s daughter Freeda. One of the apprentices, Summer Boyd, is a close friend of Carmen McCord Hicks, and has been welcomed by the family into this ballad singing project.
Bessford was the brother of Dee Hicks, of Fentress County, one of the best known bearers of balladry ever documented in the United States. Dee’s wife Delta Hicks was also a fine singer with a significant repertoire. The Hicks Family balladry was documented by folklorist Bobby Fulcher during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Fulcher is guiding and advising closely on this current project to reinvigorate the ballad tradition in the Hicks Family.
“This art form is very important to our family and family history,” the elder Hicks state. “While it is a style that is now highly endangered and not often heard, ballad singing is an important part of American history, the history of Appalachia and Tennessee, and in our home community of the Upper Cumberlands. We hope this project reintroduces the importance of ballad singing as a source of very old stories, lessons, histories, and as a root music for many other kinds of American music.”
Two full albums of Hicks Family songs with descriptive notes are available: