Ballads and Tales: Loyal Jones’s Curious and Jocular Heroes

As one of the cosmic papaws of Appalachian Studies, it’s no surprise that Loyal Jones’s presentation for the annual Celebration of Traditional Music, Appalachian Ballads & My Four Jocular Heroes, was brimming with interesting tidbits of information and stories of his jocular heroes that would make anyone wish they had personally known them.

I knew of Loyal’s newest book, My Curious and Jocular Heroes: Tales and Tale-Spinners from Appalachia, long before its official release.  In passing conversations with my Appalachian Studies colleagues and friends, and from the legendary man himself, buzz about this book was cropping up all around me.  I should start by saying I have a personal admiration of Loyal Jones, as I’m sure many others in the Appalachian Studies community do. I hop at the chance to spend any momentary sliver of time in the presence of this man.  He is my very own curious and jocular hero, and every moment basking in his intelligent, warm presence is an occasion to be celebrated.

I spent a good portion of my summer on Loyal Jones’ couch, his sweet ginger cat named Honey plopped across my lap and a cup of coffee in my hand.  His crooked smile would appear after he told a story he found particularly funny.  Loyal struggled to remember names, but we didn’t need them to laugh at the hilarity that has ensued over the course of this man’s full life. His laugh is infectious enough to get even the driest humor to chuckle, his warmth evident through the depth of the sound escaping from his chest.  I listened to every story intently, imprinting them in my mind and hoping one day I’ll have as many stories to tell.

This summer experience led to me practically leaping at the opportunity to attend and write about his presentation in the Appalachian Center’s Ballad Symposium. I expected to eat a light lunch and listen to an academic lecture on his new book. I was pleasantly surprised when he began telling stories of his heroes: Bascom Lunsford, a pioneer in collecting Appalachian song and story; Josiah H. Combs, a collector and performer of Appalachian tunes and ballads educated at the Sorbonne in Paris; Cratis D. Williams, the father of Appalachian Studies; and Leonard W. Roberts, a folklorist and storyteller.  His voice rang out in song as he recited ballads in the traditions of the men he so admired.  I never thought I would be so greatly moved by a kind old gentleman, but Loyal isn’t just any man, he’s a role model for aspiring academics like myself.  More than that, he’s an inspiration to be kind, gentle, and charismatic, to make and keep friends for a lifetime, and to enjoy the time we’ve got in our short lives.

After his presentation, he took the time to meet and greet with everyone who wished to mingle.  That endearing smile never left his face as he offered to sign fresh copies of his book.  I purchased a copy more recently and it’s tucked in my backpack, always with me, in case I happen to run into Loyal so that I might get his signature, and in turn, a little piece of Appalachian history with me for the rest of my life.

To learn more about Loyal’s book, or to purchase yourself you can find it on Amazon here. 

Article Written by Ciara Felty