This past Tuesday, WMMT’s Scuttlehole Gap Get-Together welcomed an extra-special guest into the studio: Elder Frank Newsome of Little David Old Regular Baptist Church outside of Haysi, Virginia. Elder Newsome was a 2011 recipient of the NEA’s National Heritage Fellowship, the most prestigious honor given out by the United States to traditional artists. In addition to performing with Elder James Caudill at Appalshop’s Seedtime on the Cumberland festival on June 9, Elder Newsome stopped by the WMMT studio to visit with host Willard Hall for an interview and a stirring, live, a cappella rendition of “Treasures That Money Can’t Buy.”
Elder Newsome is one of the great masters of the Old Regular Baptist singing style, which is characterized by lined-out, unaccompanied, highly ornamented and highly emotional singing. He won the National Heritage Fellowship based on a lifetime of inspiring congregations and laypeople alike with incredible vocal force, precision, and feeling. Elder Newsome boasts an amazing story, growing up as one of 22 children in Pike County, Ky., fashioning his first guitar from steel cables and his dad’s lumber and going onto work in the coal mines until health issues forced him to quit, whereupon he took up preaching and singing with zeal and great passion. Despite still suffering from many of these health issues, including black lung, silicosis, asthma, rock dust, and bronchitis, Elder Newsome’s voice is as powerfully stirring as ever. In this clip, we hear he and his wife Geraldine speak about these issues and his recent battle with cancer before the a cappella performance.