The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Mayberry Music Man

By John Hassell Yeatts © 1986

Issue: November, 1986

Marshall and Matilda Coleman. Circa 1922 (Photograph made at Mayberry, Virginia)Marshall and Matilda Coleman. Circa 1922 (Photograph made at Mayberry, Virginia)Like the legendary music man of River City, Iowa, he came singing his way into the hearts and minds of the people of Mayberry [Virginia] early in 1922. At first he was just a "new hand" at Mr. Simon's tanyard. His wife Matilda, daughter Mary and baby grandson Norman quickly endeared themselves to the travelers along the Mayberry Bankstown road with their friendly smiles and conversation. They were city folks from Roanoke. Then the close neighbors began hearing Marshall Coleman singing as he toiled at his job of turning animal hides into leather. Several people commented that the "new hand" really had a voice, and the word was spread.

Before long Mr. Coleman was invited to lead the singing at Mayberry school house when the two Brethern preachers came from Floyd once each month to hold Sunday services. There wasn't an organ or a piano. But Mr. Coleman carried a pitch pipe in his vest pocket and he knew how to get the folks singing in tune and in unison and harmony. Then, somehow he gathered some dog eared song books. Mr. Simon allowed him enough time off each summer to give short courses in music and singing. Everyone was invited, but mostly the women and children came. He taught them, not only, to carry a tune but to read the tune from the funny looking characters he drew with chalk on the black board. Sometimes he led the group in singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot, which one pupil remembers today, as Mr. Coleman's favorite.

About 1925 "The Man Who Moved a Mountain," Robert W. Childress appeared on the scene, and he and "Marsh," as Childress called him, quickly became an evangelical team. A small folding pump organ was added and each Sunday morning, and often through the summer evenings, the rafters rang with the sound of singing voices with "The Music Man" leading the crowd. About 1925 Mayberry [Presbyterian] Church was completed and folks walked, rode buggies and wagons and Model T Fords for miles to hear the gospel preached and sung; most of the time the church was packed with many more standing outside. Dozens and dozens of new members were added to the church roll.

A year or so later the Coleman's decided to move back to Roanoke, Virginia. Daughter Mary, meanwhile, had become a bride again, this time to Richard Marshall. Richard adopted the son Norman Philpott and he became Norman Marshall. Today Norman still resides at the old Marshall home between Mayberry and Bankstown. He has made scholarly contributions to Colonial Williamsburg and to the educational systems of Carroll and Patrick counties. Looking into Norman's face today, one sees the laughing eyes of his grandmother. And if they listen closely they can hear the resonant sound of the Music Man's voice. Then it doesn't seem quite so lonely in Mayberry............