Judy Waldron (“Granny Whit”)
In talking about the 2019 film, The Mountain Minor, in a YouTube video, you made the statement about how Appalachian music “carries you way back home, no matter where you are—that sound.” How did your collaboration with the film as the role of “Granny Whit” come about, and what would you like viewers to take away?
My role as Granny Whit was described to me as being a “guitar-playing square dance caller and granny woman in one.” I was already the first but had to learn more about the second. I had always been close to nature and spirit, but Dale’s script brought an added dimension to that, via Granny’s conversation with the young fiddler, Charlie. It was then that I learned I was also a nascent granny woman. And I would like viewers to take that experience away with them and learn that there are many layers in our lives and that being aware of them brings power and peace.
How did the opportunity to be a part of The Mountain Minor arise?
Our friend, neighbor, and bandmate, Dale Farmer, approached me and my husband about making a short film on our farm to bring together our love for old Appalachian music and the rural life we lived. We delightfully agreed. The script gradually evolved and expanded to include the story of Dale’s family and their journey from Kentucky to Ohio, bringing in more characters, musicians, and a broader story.
What was it like being on the set filming the movie?
It is like going into another life. (This was a first for me.) I was nervous when they said “Action,” but once the dialogue started, I got into it, responding to other characters as if this were my new reality. I learned that retakes were often requested to use a new camera angle, lighting—not necessarily for suggested changes, but that happened occasionally as well.
How did you get into character?
When I was learning the part, I said it over and over, thinking about what the scriptwriter was trying to get across. I had a very good friend who deeply believed that folks who passed from this earth could be received by folks still here, so I drew on that. I also drew on the language patterns of my grandmother, who was deeply rooted in agrarian life. The setting also played a large part—the porch of an old cabin on a hillside in the fading evening light, cows mooing way down in the pasture, my granddaughter sleeping on the porch swing, her fiddler friend missing his little sister. I was there.
What was one of the most rewarding experiences in being a part of this movie?
Helping create a visual/aural story that will support and add joy to people who have experienced such a story and to those who have only heard of it but can feel its reality in their own lives as well.
What would you like viewers to take away from the film?
I would like viewers to take away the power of the music; that it is homemade, that conscious efforts are made to continue the music through the generations, and that this music/dancing keeps people together as a community.
A longtime musician, what inspired your desire to play guitar and banjo?
My mother played the piano to us after we were in bed, hoping to settle us down, and it worked. On family occasions, we all gathered around the piano and sang. I took Mom’s ukulele to camp and played for evening gatherings. In college, I heard the Kingston Trio and joined the folk music movement, eventually learning that many of their songs came from Appalachian mountain singers, so I sought them out. I was given my first guitar in the late 1960s. (It was stolen, so I went to a music store and bought my own—a Gibson.) Then In the 1970s, I joined the local musicians who were playing in the uptown park—fiddles, banjos, guitars—and, loving the sound and roots of the banjo, bought an open back from the 1920s and started teaching myself. Thinking of the film, the guitar plays an important part in it. We decided to use our 1937 Gibson L-00 because that was the timeframe when the main characters, the Abners, would have been in their home in Kentucky. Granny Whit would have lived in the cabin, bringing her guitar for the square dances and teaching “the Carter lick” to her granddaughter, Ruthie, when she came from Ohio to stay in the summers. In the later part of the film, when Ruth is grown up and has moved back from Ohio to Kentucky, she brings her Gibson guitar back home with her.
What does Appalachian music mean to you?
To me, Appalachian music is a lifeline—a lifeline to what is real, to what satisfies my soul, to what connects me to others and others to me. I love nothing better than getting together with other Appalachian musicians and making music—singing old traditional songs in harmony with abandon. We may not know one another when we start, but when we’re done, we’re family.