Decker Toney was born in 1896 at Queens Ridge in Wayne County, the son of James Toney and Hannah Frances Moore Toney, and he lived much of his life at Harts Creek in Lincoln County and then in Logan County. We know of his musical heritage and inclinations because in 1916 when he was a farmer and rural school teacher West Virginia University professor John Harrington Cox, in his quest to document singing traditions in West Virginia, contacted him and visited him at Queens Ridge and took down seven of his songs and ballads. Two of these were beautiful Child ballads, two more were old British ballads, and three more were old songs of American origin. He learned all of his songs from his mother and they had been passed down through her family for several generations. His songs were printed in Cox’s book Folk-Songs of the South.
Decker Toney enlisted in the US army in 1918 and was discharged in 1919. By 1930 he was working as manager of a dry cleaning shop in Chapmanville and in 1940 he was doing similar work in the city of Logan. He died in Logan on 11 March 1981 and was buried at Highland Memory Gardens in Chapmanville.
--Gloria Goodwin Raheja, 8/3/2021, with additions by Chris Haddox,
Sources: Gloria Goodwin Raheja’s research for her book Logan County Blues: Frank Hutchison in the Sonic Landscape of the Appalachian Coalfields and especially John Harrington Cox, Folk-Songs of the South, Harvard University Press, 1925. Reprinted by West Virginia University Press, 2013.