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Ozarks Ballad Singer Judy Domeny

KSMU's monthly series "These Ozarks Hills" features stories about people and places in the Ozarks collected and presented by long-time journalist Marideth Sisco. In this installment, Marideth introduces us to a singer whose songs remind us of times gone by.

Intro Music Playing

Sisco: Hello I'm Meredith Sisco for these Ozarks Hills. This month I've been out on the trail of a very elusive birth, the Ozarks ballad singer. They've gotten kind of hard to come by, these singers of the old songs that tell the stories of the past to the future, reminding of us of who we are and where we come from. But I found one and I visited with her and get her to sing a little for us. Judy Domeny spends her weekdays teaching art to little school children in Rogersville and some of her weekends believe it or not being an auctioneer.

Clip of Judy Domeny hosting an auction

Sisco: And a pretty darn good one. But her real love is for the old ballads and she's been singing them for a long time. When did you take an interest Judy?

Domeny: I found a book of folk songs and could see that I could play them that was the first thing that interested me. I could play the songs in that book and then I got intrigued by the stories and also my dad knew some of them. He would sing them; he learned some of them as a kid and I thought that was ancient history if he knew them as a kid you know somehow the fact that he knew them...

(Music of Domeny singing)

Domeny: So for the fun of it I was learning these songs. I was intrigued about queens and kings and Indians and Cowboys and murderers so I...I just learned these songs and then I started playing them out at Silver Dollar City and just have continued to play and they have been just a source of joy for me. And it's funny, I don't remember names, I don't remember dates very well...uh...but I can remember a long winded ballad. Put it to music and I can remember every word of it. So they just stick with me, I have a natural inclination to learn those ballads.

Sisco: Surely people have asked you why you sing so many sad songs but I guess most of the old songs are sad, aren't they? Why do you think the sad songs were so popular back then?

Domeny: Some of these songs stayed alive because if toy were out here working this Ozarks rocky ground and you had 10 kids tugging at your dress and you were having scrub on the washboard, the garden and the kitchen, and the washboard and the kids were your life as a woman, I think maybe singing about a queen that got killed over in England would make you feel a little bit better about your laden life. I think it would. I think not only was it entertainment but you could say, "Well at least I got it better than she does."

Sisco: I asked Judy if she'd sing us something special for us here on the radio and she picked one of my favorites from the May Kennedy McCord Collection.


Sisco: Oh those old sad songs. Love gone wrong, death comes soon or sudden, the twist of fate. The stories of a rough and rocky path through these Ozarks Hills. Let's let Judy Domay take us on out and thanks for listening.


Marideth is a Missouri storyteller, veteran journalist, teacher, author, musician and student of folklore focusing on stories relevant to Ozarks culture and history. Each month, she’s the voice behind "These Ozarks Hills.” Sisco spent 20 years as an investigative and environmental writer for the West Plains Quill and was well known for her gardening column, “Crosspatch,” on which her new book is based. Sisco was a music consultant and featured singer in the 2010 award-winning feature film “Winter's Bone.”