The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Banjo Pickin' Girl

Preserved By Priscilla S. Black © 1990

Issue: July, 1990

Dear Friends at The Mountain Laurel,

I have been taking The Mountain Laurel for several years. Having been born and raised in Floyd and Carroll Counties [Virginia], I can relate to all the stories and letters. They make me laugh and they make me cry. I don't know why, but we, who are from the Blue Ridge Mountains, seem to love them with a passion.

My father, C. P. (Buck) Quesenberry, was a fox hunter and a five string banjo picker. We five girls awoke every morning to the sound of his banjo and the coffee grinder. My sister Dorothy was playing the fiddle and banjo for pie suppers with my father when only eight years old. She was one of the best. She played at "The Old Time Fiddlers Convention" in Galax several times. She played with the all time great, Doc Watson. Her last performance was at Wolf Trap, near Washington, D.C. She died of cancer shortly thereafter.

Priscilla Quesenberry Black
Galion, Ohio

We received the above letter along with a newspaper article about Mrs. Black's sister, Dorothy Rorick, with the P.S. telling us to use whatever we wished "to the memory of my dear sister, Dorothy." We hope you enjoy reading it and hope, for those of you who were privileged to know Dorothy Quesenberry Rorick, that it brings back dear memories also.

Dorothy Quesenberry Rorick was born and raised in Virginia and learned how to play the banjo from her father who worked on the railroad in the 1930's. He taught her a lot of Appalachian tunes which have since become classics, such as "Come and Get," "Sally Goodin," Cumberland Gap," and "Leather Britches." He also taught her Civil War songs and she recalled learning "John Henry," as a new song directly from her father's sources on the railroad. She took pride in her old homemade banjo which had been in her family for many years explaining, "Down in the hollow I remember all we ever had, all every family had, to decorate their home in the old days was the fiddle and the banjo on the wall. We used to entertain ourselves."

As Dorothy grew up, she became a featured performer in her local region. By 1937 she was the star of her own radio program out of Columbus, Ohio leading an all-girl band called the "Golden State Cowgirls." She recalled visiting Nashville in the old days and becoming acquainted with performers such as Roy Acuff and Red Foley. There are songs in the National Archives that are copyrighted under her name.

After she and her husband moved to the Galion, Ohio area, she found that there wasn't much of a demand for Appalachian music in the 1940's and 50's and retired as a music performer for forty years.

In 1978, Dorothy was invited as one of Virginia's delegates to the 40th Annual National Folk Festival sponsored by the National Council for the Traditional Arts, a three day series of workshops which brought musicians together from all over the United States to share the best of this country's native musical traditions. The festival was held at Wolf Trap Farm Park in Vienna, Virginia. She not only shared her music, but spoke on a panel addressing the topic, "Why We Held to Our Culture."

Not long after the performance at Wolf Trap, Dorothy died of cancer, but at Wolf Trap she had a shining moment of glory and recognition. It must have filled her with pride and satisfaction, not merely in her own performance, but in the nationally renewed interest in her kind of banjo picking music.