Henry Truvillion Recordings

John A. Lomax first met Henry Truvillion, an African American in his mid-40s, in the company town of Wiergate in Newton County. Truvillion worked for the Wier Long Leaf Lumber Company which operated a large logging business in the East Texas timberlands. At that time, Lomax and his son Alan were collecting the songs of workers like miners, woodsmen and railroad laborers. Truvillion explained that because of his faith and duties as a preacher, he was reluctant to share reels or anything but spirituals.

But eventually Truvillion, a railroad track crew supervisor, did share far more than spirituals when the Lomaxes returned to Wiergate in 1934 and several years later when John and his wife Ruby Terrill Lomax visited in 1939 and 1940. In all, the Lomaxes made more than 50 recordings of Truvillion who relied on work songs, specifically calls and hollers, in his position supervising track crews for the Wier rail operations.

The Lomaxes initially recorded Truvillion in Wiergate and then at his home located in Shankleville along Highway 87 about three miles south of Burkeville. In addition to sharing spirituals and sing along songs, Truvillion provided an extensive selection of work songs that he used to direct his team of laborers in a variety of tasks. Different calls guided workers as they straightened or "lined" new track, drove or hammered spikes, or lifted heavy steel rails from a railcar to the ground. John Lomax later wrote that through Truvillion, "we secured the most complete group of railroad songs," adding that Truvillion's "authentic and artistic mastery of this medium has long been recognized by his employers for its economic value."

John Lomax's repeated visits made an impression on Truvillion's young son Jesse who as an adult recalled receiving Christmas gifts from the Lomaxes. He also remembered seeing the fine strands of "black hair" that covered the floor as records were literally were cut in their living room. "Neither man was purely ordinary," Jesse later wrote in the "Journal of Folklife Research" of Lomax and his father, who died in 1948, noting that the men "were indebted to each other" having "served each other well, considering the raw segregation of the years of their sojourn."

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Audio

Track-linin' Holler
At the request of Ruby T. Lomax, Henry Truvillion shared one of his calls or "hollers" that he used to direct his track crew as they straightened rails. Ruby joined her husband John A. Lomax when he visited Truvillion in 1939. ~ Source:...
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Shortenin' Bread:
As Henry Truvillion sang his version of "Shortenin' Bread" during John A. and Ruby T. Lomax's 1939 session, his daughter Modestine, then about 15 months, could be heard in the background responding to her father's voice. ~...
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Israelites Shoutin' in Heaven
Railroad worker Henry Truvillion became a preacher later in life. During the Lomaxes' visit to his Newton County home, Truvillion sang the spiritual "Israelites Shoutin' in Heaven." ~ Source: American Folklife Center, Library of...
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Who's Been Here Since I Been Gone
In introducing "Who's Been Here Since I Been Gone," Henry Truvillion said that he had learned the song when he was around 18 and working on a farm. John A. and Ruby T. Lomax recorded this at Truvillion's farmhouse in 1939. ~...
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