Mountain State of Mind

EPISODE 6: Songmakers: “The Don Blankenship Blues”

In this episode of the “Mountain State of Mind” podcast of the Charleston Gazette-Mail we begin an occasional series on “Songmakers,” about how singer-songwriters come to write the songs they do– then they perform their song. Our guest is Colleen Anderson, who has come out with a song called “The Don Blankenship Blues.” The song concerns the former Massey Energy CEO, who on May 12, 2016 began serving a one-year sentence for conspiring to violate health and safety standards at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va., where 29 miners died in April 2010 in America’s worst coal mining disaster in decades. Anderson sings the song with help form Julie Adams of the “Mountain Stage” band.

The is a companion podcast to an article titled “Former coal magnate Don Blankenship leaves mark in art, song” in the Sunday, May 29, 2016 edition of the Charleston Gazette-Mail by Douglas Imbrogno. For more on the Don Blankenship trial and sentencing, see the Gazette-Mail’s special section here.

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Colored pencil illustration of Don Blankenship used courtesy of Jeff Pierson (

By Douglas Imbrogno
Charleston Gazette-Mail | May 29, 2016

The history of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship’s fall has been recorded in a veritable mountain of legal documents. But art and song have also begun to have a say in the saga of the once high-flying, all-powerful coal mining magnate.

On May 12, Blankenship began serving a one-year sentence in a California prison for conspiring to violate mine safety and health standards at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, where 29 miners died in April 2010 in America’s worst coal-mining disaster in decades.

Two artists were on hand during the trial, which was closed to photography. Jeff Pierson produced illustrations for the Gazette-Mail’s coverage and Rob Cleland did likewise for WOWK-Channel 13 News.

On March 17, the Taylor Books Art Gallery in downtown Charleston featured the artists’ work in the exhibit “Drawings from the Blankenship Trial.” (The exhibit has since concluded, but a handful of works still remain on view.)

Meanwhile, well-known Charleston graphic designer, songwriter, poet and sometimes activist Colleen Anderson has been performing a new song called “The Don Blankenship Blues” as part of a long Appalachian tradition of folk music absorbing and responding to current headlines from the coal fields… | READ ON

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Here’s a memorial slideshow to the 29 miners, ages 20 to 61, who died in the April 5, 2010, explosion at the Massey Energy Upper Big Branch Mine near Montcoal, West Virginia. This was originally produced for the Charleston Gazette in Charleston, W.Va., by Douglas Imbrogno. The soundtrack is “Andante Quieto,” by the New Arts Trio from the CD “Harold Hayslett: A Musical Tribute” (

EPISODE 5: Novelizing the Battle of Blair Mountain

The Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921 in southern West Virginia was the largest civil insurrection since the Civil War and the largest labor rebellion in American history. Former West Virginia journalist Topper Sherwood, who now calls Berlin his home, has written a novel titled “Carla Rising,” inspired by the remarkable events of that time. Listen to “Mountain State of Mind” podcast interview with Sherwood about the inspiration for the novel.

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The podcast is a companion multimedia piece to a review of “Carla Rising” by Paul Nyden in the May 15, 2016 issue of the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Below is an excerpt from that review. Click on the link below to read the full review:

Carla Rising,” by Topper Sherwood

Martinsburg, W.Va.: Appalachian Editions, 2015

312 pages. Paperback, $16.99.


For the Charleston Gazette-Mail

“Carla Rising” is an engaging novel about labor unrest that sparked the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, one of the most famous confrontations in American labor history.

The battle was waged in company towns and across mountainsides in Logan and Boone counties. Many striking coal miners, evicted from their homes by company guards, created tent colonies and marched toward Logan, headed toward a confrontation with thousands of county sheriffs, private mine guards and strikebreakers backed by coal operators.

Topper Sherwood’s novel is filled with fascinating stories about the personal debates which undoubtedly took place. “Carla Rising” — focused on a female character of that name — delves into the intense internal conflicts on both sides of the long, often violent union-company conflict.

Between Aug. 25 and Sept. 2, 1921, more than 10,000 union coal miners battled local law enforcement officers and coal company guards along Blair Mountain Ridge. It was the largest armed conflict in American labor history.

Coal miners first gathered in the town of Marmet near the Kanawha River to start their long march to help unionize mines in Logan and Mingo counties. More than a million rounds were fired during the historic battle, which ended only after 2,500 federal troops and a squadron of bomber planes were ordered in by President Warren Harding …



Maestro Grant Cooper is retiring after 15 years as conductor of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra. In Episode 4 of “Mountain State of Mind,” a podcast of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Cooper talks about the art of conducting, how he tried to be Leonard Bernstein, the difference between conducting with a baton and your bare hands and more. The podcast is a companion piece to an article in the Friday, May 6, 2016 Charleston Gazette-Mail, excerpted below.

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Grant Cooper hit the big stage for the very first time as a very small guy.

The current maestro of the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra was then age 4, growing up in Wellington, New Zealand. His mother would end up singing as a soloist with the New Zealand Opera Company, but before that she sang with a semi-professional opera outfit.

“Once, they needed a kid to come on stage,” recalled Cooper. “I had to shout, ‘The bears broke loose!’ It was before I could read obviously, so it’s a line I’ve never forgotten.”

His stage chops have come a long way since then. Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Clay Center and Sunday at 3 p.m. at Parkersburg’s Blennerhasset School, Cooper, 63, will mark 15 years of conducting the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra with a special concert dubbed “Maestro’s Fantasia.”

It’s Cooper’s swan song in leading the entire orchestra, as he announced his retirement this past fall. In the upcoming 2016-17 season, he will lead four Symphony Pops concerts, while potential new maestros of the WVSO will take turns leading the full orchestra in what amounts to live auditions.

In a wide-ranging interview at the symphony’s Wyoming Street offices last week, Gazette-Mail assistant lifestyle editor Douglas Imbrogno and freelance classical music reviewer David Williams talked with Cooper about his days as a trumpet star, just what a conductor does, the role of symphonies in the short-attention span digital age and more.