Mary Bullman Sands (April 8, 1872 – April 2, 1949) was a singer of old traditional ballads during the early part of the 20th century in Madison County, North Carolina. She was known locally as "Singing Mary" due to her singing talent and extensive knowledge of the words and melodies of many old-time traditional songs that had been passed down through previous generations. In 1916, English folklorist Cecil Sharp visited Madison County to collect and record traditional folk songs being sung in America that would have originated generations earlier in the British Isles. Sands sang 25 songs for him, 23 of which he included in his book, English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians.
Early life and family
Mary Sands née Bullman was born on April 8, 1872 in the Laurel section of Madison County, North Carolina. Her parents were John Wesley Bullman (1847–1895) and Rosannah Shelton (aka Franklin) (1836–1909). She had a twin sister, Martha Bullman (1872–1897), who died while in her twenties. She also had an older sister, Melvina ("Jane") Bullman (c. 1865 – c. 1930) and an older brother, Christopher Columbus ("Sonny") Bullman (1869–1935). John Wesley Bullman (called "Wesley") was the second husband of Rosannah. Her first husband, Hugh Wallin (1826–1864), was killed in the U.S. Civil War. Rosannah and Hugh Wallin had five sons - Sands's half brothers - some of whom also became well-known traditional ballad singers.
When Cecil Sharp came to Madison County in 1916 as part of his project to collect old English ballads, Sands was 44 years old and was eight and a half months pregnant with her tenth child. Of the 39 different Madison County singers that sang for Sharp, Sands provided him the second largest number of songs, 25, with Jane Hicks Gentry of Hot Springs, North Carolina providing him the most, a total of 70, 40 of which were published in his book English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians. After Sharp's visit, Sands continued to sing, became very active in her church and wrote a number of unpublished religious songs. She was a lifelong resident of Madison County, except for brief stays with her children during the latter part of her life as her health began to fail.
Songs collected by Sharp
This list includes dates, titles, and volume and page references to the two volumes-in-one edition of Sharp's English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians, published in 1932.
(In some cases, Sands referred to her songs by titles different from their more common titles, and parenthetical entries indicate the titles Sharp used in his book.)
July 31, 1916
- The Silk Merchant’s Daughter, I, 381
- The Perbadus Lady (Pretty Nancy of Yarmouth), I, 379
- The Brown Girl, I, 295
- Lord Bateman (Young Beichan), I, 81
- Fair Margaret and Sweet William, I, 135
- Come You People Old and Young (The Suffolk Miracle), I, 261
August 1, 1916
- Awake! Awake!, I, 358
- Little Soldier Boy (The Lady and the Dragoon), I, 333
- The Daemon Lover, I, 244
- Earl Brand, I, 16
- I Am a Man of Honour (The Virginian Lover), unpublished
- The Broken Token, II, 70
August 2, 1916
- The Outlandish Knight (Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight), I, 5
- The Golden Glove, I, 377
August 3, 1916
- Lord Lovell, I, 146
- Married and Single Life, II, 3
- My Sad Overthrow (The Sheffield Apprentice), II, 66
- Lord Randal, I, 38
August 4, 1916
- Polly Oliver, I, 344
- I Waited Out My Hours, unpublished
- The Boatsman and the Chest, I, 338
- If You Want to Go A-courting, II, 6
August 5, 1916
- Pretty Saro, II, 10
- Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender (Lord Thomas and Fair Ellinor), I, 121
- My Dearest Dear, II, 13
The old ballads collected by Sharp from Sands and others almost a century ago have not been forgotten. A number of present-day traditional ballad singers have included Sands's songs in their repertoires for live concerts as well as in sound recordings.
Sheila Kay Adams, award winning singer, musician, story teller, and author, has recorded an album entitled My Dearest Dear, which includes six songs that are part of Sharp's collection from Sands. They are: "Fine Sally" (aka "The Brown Girl"), "Awake! Awake!," "My Dearest Dear," "Little Soldier Boy," "Silk Merchant's Daughter," and "Jimmy Randall" (aka "Lord Randall").
Joe Penland, ballad singer and story teller, has recorded several albums that include songs from Sands, with his most recent album, The Mary Sands Project, Volume I, containing eleven of the songs Sands sang for Sharp and one original song written by Sands. They are: "Awake! Awake!," "The Silk Merchants Daughter," "Sweet William (Earl Brand)," "The House Carpenter (The Daemon Lover)," "My Sad Overthrow (The Sheffield Apprentice)," "The Handkerchief (The Suffolk Miracle)," "Lady Marget (Fair Margaret and Sweet William)," "The Boatsman and the Chest," "Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender," "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight," "Jimmy Randall (Lord Randall)," and "Your Sins Will Find You Out." "Your Sins Will Find You Out" was written by Sands depicting the 1937 shooting death of her son Chesley in Marshall, North Carolina.
Prior to the release of The Mary Sands Project, Volume I, Penland had recorded two other albums that included songs from Sands. They are: Standing on Tradition, which includes "Pretty Saro," and On Shakey Ground, which includes "My Dearest Dear" and "Fine Sally" (aka "The Brown Girl").
Other traditional Southern Appalachian ballad singers who have recorded albums containing one or more of Sands's songs include: Donna Ray Norton, Single Girl and Forks in the Road; Bobby McMillon, A Deeper Feeling; Bill Morris, Blue Ridge Mountain Music, Volume II; Jerry Adams, When I First Come to this Country; Doug and Jack Wallin, Family Songs and Stories from the North Carolina Mountains; and Betty Smith,Songs Traditionally Sung in North Carolina.
- Virginia Sparks Turner, "525, Sands and Bullman," in Madison County Heritage - North Carolina Vol. I, comp. Madison County Heritage Book Committee (Marceline, MO: Walsworth Publishing, 1994), 190.
- Cecil Sharp, Maud Karpeles (ed.), English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians (London: Oxford University Press, 1932).
- Mike Yates and Kriss Sands, A Nest of Singing Birds: Cecil Sharp, Mary Sands, and the Madison County Song Tradition. Musical Traditions, March 15, 2002. Retrieved: December 22, 2012.
- 1880 United States Census, 1880; Township No. 10 (Big Laurel), Madison, North Carolina; page 22, line 43-47 , enumeration district 124 . Retrieved on December 28, 2012.
- Frankie S. Johnson, "349, Leroy and Frankie Sands Johnson," in Madison County Heritage - North Carolina Vol. I, comp. Madison County Heritage Book Committee (Marceline, MO: Walsworth Publishing, 1994), 129.
- Michael Yates, Cecil Sharp in America. Musical Traditions, January 15, 1999. Retrieved: December 28, 2012.
- Betty N. Smith, Jane Hicks Gentry: A Singer Among Singers (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1998), 137.
- North Carolina, State of, 1949 (signed 4-2-49), "Certificate of Death: Mary Sands," Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Reg. Dist. No. 11-95, File No. 217.
- "Website - Blue Ridge Heritage - Traditional Artist Directory - Sheila Kay Adams". The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
- Sheila Kay Adams, My Dearest Dear, Granny Dell Records 1220, 2000, compact disc.
- "Website - Blue Ridge Heritage - Traditional Artist Directory - Joe Penland". The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
- Joe Penland, The Mary Sands Project, Volume I, 1869 Records 1211, 2011, compact disc.
- J. W. Penland, Standing on Tradition, 1869 Records, 2004, compact disc.
- Joe Penland, On Shakey Ground, 1869 Records 00311, 2011, compact disc.
- "Website - Blue Ridge Heritage - Traditional Artist Directory - Donna Ray Norton". The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
- Donna Ray Norton, Single Girl, J.O.D. Studios, 2000, compact disc.
- Donna Ray Norton, Forks in the Road, J.O.D. Studios, c. 2005, compact disc.
- "Website - Blue Ridge Heritage - Traditional Artist Directory - Bobby McMillon". The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
- Bobby McMillon, A Deeper Feeling, Ivy Creek Recordings ICR 401, 1994, cassette tape.
- "Website - Ivy Creek Recordings - NOTE: Click "Biography" near bottom of page". B. Morris & R. Rucker. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
- Bill Morris, Blue Ridge Mountain Music, Volume II, Ivy Creek Recordings ICR 102, 1993, cassette tape.
- "Website - Blue Ridge Heritage - Traditional Artist Directory - Jerry Adams". The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
- Jerry Adams, When I First Come to this Country, Rakma Studios, 2000, compact disc.
- Doug and Jack Wallin, Family Songs and Stories from the North Carolina Mountains, Smithsonian Folkways SF 40013, 1995, compact disc.
- "Website - Blue Ridge Heritage - Traditional Artist Directory - Betty Smith". The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
- Betty Smith, Songs Traditionally Sung in North Carolina, Folk-Legacy Records, 1987, cassette tape.