“I’ll entertain ‘em come hell or high water,” Patsy Stoneman said shortly before
a performance in 2012 at the Paramount Center in Bristol.
And that she did.
Stoneman, who was country music royalty as a member of the Stoneman family, died in her
sleep Thursday at age 90.
Her father, Ernest V. “Pop” Stoneman, was instrumental in assembling talent
and recording music for what became known as the Bristol Sessions in Bristol, Tennessee in 1927.
Patsy was 2 years old at the time. In the span of her 90 years, the native of
Galax, Virginia not only resided in a historically significant family of musicians, she made her
own mark, too.
“The Stonemans, we didn’t participate in music for awards,” said Roni Stoneman,
the youngest of Pop and Hattie Stoneman’s 23 children. “People say, ‘How’d you learn to play
music?’ We got hungry.”
The Stonemans’ legacy took root when Pop traveled to New York in 1924 to record two
sides for the Okeh label. He went back on Jan. 8, 1925 and made his first hit “The Titanic.”
“Dig this,” Roni Stoneman said. “During the good times with daddy and mommy, they
had lots of money. Then the Depression hit. They came and took our home. Everything. They cleaned
daddy out. The children liked to starve.”
Patsy Stoneman lived through it all.
“It was a tough life,” said Tim White, a musician and painter of the country music mural
on State Street that includes Pop and Hattie Stoneman. He was a friend of Patsy’s.
“She never dwelled on the hard times,” he said Friday.
Good times, bad times and horrific times that some still do not believe actually happened.
“We lived in a chicken coop,” Patsy Stoneman said three years ago. “You know that, right?”
Despite her father’s million-selling singles and despite his presence during the Bristol Sessions, the
Stoneman family moved to Maryland. And lived in a chicken coop.
“They made it into a home,” White said. “But it was a chicken coop.”
Music abounded within the Stoneman family home. Some of the children learned to play, sing and
perform out of necessity.
“That ole yellow line down the road is not friendly,” Roni Stoneman said. “I’ve been on it. Patsy
was on it. I was 4 years old when I started.”
Various assemblages of family members and sounds comprised initial and subsequent lineups of
The Stonemans as a music group.
Shortly before the 1968 death of her father, Patsy learned to play autoharp. Amid the wide
open music terrain of the late 1960s, The Stonemans with Patsy on autoharp ventured west and played
such now-famous rock venues as the Fillmore West. They even opened shows for such acts as
Joe Cocker, James Brown and Van Morrison.
“Everybody loved us,” Patsy Stoneman said.
Late in life, she worried that her father and mother had been forgotten. Then came White’s mural
in 1986 on State Street, which documents primary figures of the Bristol Sessions.
Then came Pop Stoneman’s 2008 induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“I cried,” Patsy Stoneman said earlier of the moment.
Occasional appearances by Patsy in and near Bristol preceded and followed such gradual acknowledgement
of her family’s mark on music. Her life encompassed the actual formation of the country,
bluegrass and rock ‘n’ roll music industries.
“Anytime you lose an icon, you lose history,” White said. “You lose an encyclopedia. I spent
a lot of time with Patsy. You can’t get it all, and now she’s gone.”
She had been in failing health for about a year, White said.
“When I saw her about two months ago in the hospital, before I left, I said ‘I’m praying for
you,’” White said. “She said, ‘I’m praying for me, too.’ I said, ‘What are you praying for?’”
Patsy Stoneman did not pause.
“I’m praying to die,” she said.
Her sister, Roni, last saw her two days before her death.
“She said, ‘Pray for me to go,’” Roni Stoneman said. “‘Pray for God to take me.’ So I did. And he did.”
Stoneman said that the public is invited to a visitation for Patsy Stoneman on Monday
at Mount Olivet Funeral Home, 1101 Lebanon Pike in Nashville, Tennessee from 5 to 8 p.m. central time.
“Patsy wrote a song called ‘Mama’s Prayers and Daddy’s Pinto Beans,’” Roni Stoneman said. “So, I’m
going to have that song played at her visitation.”
Funeral services will follow at 1 p.m. central Tuesday at Mount Olivet with burial to follow near the graves of her parents.
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