Nimrod Workman and Phyllis Boyens

Also Known As: Nimrod Workman, Phyllis Boyens

Updated: September 16, 2011

Traditional and protest singers.

Nimrod Workman and his daughter Phyllis Boyens, both Martin County, Kentucky, natives, are important figures in Appalachian music because of their topical songs on coal mining and unions. Workman was born November 5, 1895, into a family with English, Scottish, and Cherokee ancestry. He went to work in the coal mines at age fourteen for minimal wages. Impressed by Mother Jones and the United Mine Workers of America when they came to organize the miners in his county, Workman became a staunch union loyalist and activist. Developing black lung disease during forty-two years in the coal mines, he was active in the campaign to gain compensation for miners suffering from that debilitating and often fatal malady.                                                                           

Workman mostly sang a cappella. His repertoire combined traditional Appalachian ballads and topical self- composed songs dealing with coal mining, religion, and cur- rent events (“The Watergate Boogie”). He recorded three albums, one of which, Passing thru the Garden (1974), featured Phyllis Boyens, the next-to-youngest of the eleven children that Nimrod and Molly Workman raised to adulthood.

Workman’s other albums are Mother Jones’ Will (1976) and Lay Down My Pick and Shovel (c. early 1970s). He is also featured on the album Come All You Coal Miners (1973) and is the subject of an Appalshop film, To Fit My Own Category (1975). Some of his songs and advice can be found in the book Voices from the Mountains, compiled by folklorists and musicians Guy and Candie Carawan. Workman died November 26, 1994.

Phyllis Boyens sang traditional ballads, gospel, and topical coal-mining songs, as well as country, blues, and rock. Boyens was born February 22, 1947. She performed often at folk revival venues in the 1960s with her sister and later formed a quartet. In 1983 Boyens recorded a solo album entitled I Really Care and later contributed material to the 1997 recording anthology Coal Mining Women. Both Workman and Boyens were featured in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980); Boyens, who had previously appeared in the Academy Award–Winning documentary Harlan County, USA (1976), played Loretta Lynn’s mother. Boyens died December 9, 2009.

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"Nimrod Workman and Phyllis Boyens," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2017, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 29 Mar 2017 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=213>

APA Style

"Nimrod Workman and Phyllis Boyens." (2017) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved March 29, 2017, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=213