Ernest Van "Pop" Stoneman
Pop Stoneman's father was a lay preacher, his mother, a singer. His cousins, uncles, and brothers enjoyed sharing music with their family and friends. During his teens, he joined his family gatherings, playing every instrument he could get his hands on. He was drawn to the autoharp, and because he couldn't afford to order one from the Montgomery Ward catalogue, Pop built his own using parts of an old piano.
During his early life, he found work wherever he could - as a farm hand, a carpenter, and a sweeper in a cotton mill in Fries, Virginia. As always throughout his life, however, his main interest was music.
Pop met and married Hattie Frost, whose father was a luthier, fiddler, and banjo player. Bill Frost had taught his daughter Hattie to play the banjo and fiddle. She became a fine musician in her own right. Pop and Hattie were the parents of 23 children, 13 of whom survived to adulthood.
Wlile working at the Fries mill, a friend of his had a "home recording machine," and in 1914, Pop recorded a tune on this machine with a harmonica and his autoharp. That experience changed his life forever.
Pop's first commercial recording, a song he wrote called "The Sinking of the Titanic," was made in New York City on September 1924. It quickly became number three on the Billboard/Variety charts, and remained there for ten weeks. This solo recording sold over one million copies.
From 1924 through 1929, Pop recorded well over 200 songs under many names and on many labels. In 1927, he was under contract with Ralph Peer, Recording Director for the Victor Talking Machine Company Pop knew there was talent in the Bristol, Tennessee area, and was greatly responsible for Mr. Peer setting up the famous Bristol Recording Sessions. This historical session has been dubbed the "Big Bang of Country Music." Pop and Hattie were the first to record at Bristol, and on subsequent days, The Original Carter Family (A. P., Sara, and Maybelle Carter), and Mississippi Yodler Jimmie Rogers made their nationally commercial debuts.
After being a solo artist, Pop began to include his wife and adult family members in his performances. In 1930, he brought their children into the musical arena, thus making the Stoneman name the longest continuously active name in country music.
Pop's professional musical career was a long one, dating from his first recording in 1924 to his death at age 75.
The Stoneman Family
An Early Photograph of The Stoneman Family
Because the family is so large and the music interest varied among its members, they frequently broke into "band segments." At times there were as many as five or six family bands performing throughout the country simultaneously. The picture below is one such group.
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