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John Christopher Haddox
Associate Professor, School of Design and Community Development

Henry Bias

Henry and Mary Bias

-Henry and Mary Bias. Photo courtesy of and used with permission of Bonnie Hager

Henry Arthur “Straight” Bias was living at Ethel on Dingess Run in Logan County, working as a coal miner, when West Virginia professor of English Louis Chappell visited on 26 August 1940 with his portable aluminum disk recording equipment and recorded four of his unaccompanied songs. He sang a spirited version of Child ballad 200, The Gypsy Laddie, that he called Black Jack Davey; it’s a popular ballad but otherwise not collected in the southwestern West Virginia coalfields. He sang the well-known American ballad East Virginia which he called In Old Virginia, and he sang Pretty Little Miss which he called Come Go With Me, a song that had come to America from England and Scotland. He also sang Froggie Went A-Courting, which he called Old Froggie, a song that dates back to a 1549 Scottish text.

He is remembered today in the Hewett Creek area of Logan and Boone counties, where he lived for many years, as a singer of hymns at graveside funeral services and as singing for children and adults who’d gather on his front porch, on Missouri Fork of the creek.

Mr. Bias was born on 3 March 1898 at Turtle Creek in Boone County. In 1900,1910, and 1920 he was living with his father who was a farmer in Boone County. By 1930 however he was living at Lake in Logan County and working as a miner. And then in 1940 and 1942, we find him in Ethel, mining coal for the Chilton Block company. He died in October 1976 and is buried in the Bias family cemetery at Hewett.*

—Gloria Goodwin Raheja, February 2021. 

Sources:  Gloria Goodwin Raheja’s research for her book Logan County Blues: Frank Hutchison in the Sonic Landscape of the Appalachian Coalfields, and the Louis Chappell Collection at the West Virginia University Library’s West Virginia and Regional History Center.

*the Bias Cemetery is on private land and any visits to the gravesite should be coordinated with the landowner. 

Listen to Henry sing Black Jack Davey for Louis Watson Chappell in 1940: 

Henry Bias singing Black Jack Davey

-recording used with permission from the West Virginia and Regional History Center