By helping set Ralph Peer’s 1927 Bristol Sessions in motion and raising a dozen accomplished musicians, Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Ernest V. “Pop” Stoneman impacted the commercial development of both bluegrass and country music.
Ernest and his wife Hattie Stoneman thrived in the early days of the record industry, struggled through the Great Depression and redeemed themselves when their family band found commercial success in the ’60s in both Washington, D.C. and Nashville.
The women of the Stoneman family’s second generation tell an equally compelling story. With Patsy’s leadership skills, Donna’s on-stage spunk and Roni’s ability to laugh to keep from crying, three of Pop’s six daughters represent the hardships of an Appalachian upbringing and the opportunities that took them from Galax, Virginia to the Grand Ole Opry stage.
Patsy Stoneman (May 27, 1925- July 23, 2015)
When Pop passed away on June 14, 1968, his family was coming off its greatest run of commercial success. With the help of producer Cowboy Jack Clement, the patriarch revisited the glories of 1924’s “The Sinking of the Titanic” and other sides for RCA-Victor, Edison and various imprints. At its peak, the family won the CMA Vocal Group of the Year award in ’67.
Without their emotional and musical rock, Eddie, Gene, Dean, Jimmy, Van and Scotty Stoneman depended on the leadership skills and business sense of their autoharp-playing sister Patsy. Per her dad’s wishes, she stepped away from her own musical ventures to guide the ship as the family transitioned from television stars to bluegrass royalty. She remained an ambassador for old-time music until her death at age 90.
Donna Stoneman (Feb. 7, 1934- )
If you’ve fallen into a rabbit hole of archival footage, you’ve seen Donna Stoneman. You might not recognize the name, but at some point you’ve been blown away by the petite, big-haired mandolin player from 1967’s The Road to Nashville. Similar theatrics wowed viewers of The Jimmy Dean Show and her family’s own syndicated program. While her undeniable talents aided family recordings for Starday and MGM, it’s Donna’s on-stage enthusiasm that set the Bluegrass Champs and other projects apart.
Donna’s cure for fleeting fame and bad relationships was her Christian faith. After devoting her life to Christ in the ’70s, she became a gospel singer and preacher. Whenever Donna rejoined the family band over the years, they side-stepped club gigs out of respect for her personal convictions.
Roni Stoneman (May 5, 1938- )
Roni doubled as a dynamic musician and a throwback comedy act, similar to the Carter Family’s June. Most notably, she picked her banjo and picked on herself for years as Hee Haw regular Ida Lee Nagger.
Her gap-toothed alter-ego parodied less-than-funny Appalachian living, as chronicled in Ivan M. Tribe’s The Stonemans (Illinois U. Press, 1993) and her own Pressing Own: The Roni Stoneman Story, as told to Ellen Wright (Illinois U. Press, 2007).
She continues to perform live and even cut a fantastic song called “The Banjo Dies” in 2016.