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WCU Stories

Calliope Stage performance about ballad singer added to Mountain Heritage Day

The story of a blind ballad singer will come alive at Mountain Heritage Day on Saturday, Sept. 25, at Western Carolina University.

Calliope Stage Company will present “A Singer Needs a Song,” based on the remarkable — yet little-known — life of Jackson County native and former Mountain Heritage Day performer Ethel Brown, who passed away in 1992.

The annual festival of Southern Appalachian traditions and culture is renowned as a showcase for bluegrass, old-time and traditional music, as well as family activities, vendors and the region’s finest arts and crafts. The 2020 festival was an abbreviated, virtual event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

ethel brown

Ethel Brown

“A Singer Needs a Song” begins at 12:15 p.m. at the Shape Note Tent. Brown, blind since birth in 1910, grew up at her grandparents’ home on John’s Creek, a tributary of Caney Fork in Jackson County. 

As an original short theater piece, “A Singer Needs a Song” is a monologue interspersed with verses from traditional songs based on recordings of Brown now housed in the archives at WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center. The performance is a contemplation of how Appalachian ballads manage to find new life across time, geography and generations, written by Susan Pepper and Jonathan Bradshaw, and directed by Micah Patt.

The actors include Susan Cain as “Ethel,” Helen Miller as “The Song” and Morgan Cherry as the “WCU student.”

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