The daughter of old-time singer and songwriter Nimrod Workman, Phyllis Boyens was a soulful mountain singer who recorded her only solo album, I Really Care for Rounder (0162) in 1983. Half the album was country, the other half bluegrass backed up by the Johnson Mountain Boys. The following year she recorded a number of songs as part of the album, They’ll Never Keep Her Down, a compilation of songs by women about coal mining. On this album, she was backed up by the short lived bluegrass band The Dreadful Snakes, which included Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas.
In 1974 Boyens recorded an album, Passing Thru the Garden (June Appal JA 0001) with her father.
In 1980, she played Loretta Lynn’s mother, Clara Webb, in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter and in 1984 Boyens appeared in the TV movie, The Dollmaker. Also, she is featured on the soundtrack to Guncrazy (1992), singing Mean Papa Blues, a track from her I Really Care album. Boyens also appeared in the documentary Harlan County USA.
Her version of Jean Ritchie’s Blue Diamond Mines and the tune Lawrence Jones, about the one man dead on the Harlan County line, during the labor troubles there in early 1970s are classics.
She retired after moving from her native West Virginia to Florida.
Here are two videos which feature her singing. The first has Phyllis singing her song, The Way My Daddy Laughed, in 1983. Following that is a tribute to her music that has the audio of her singing The Last Old Shovel from her Rounder CD with assorted images.
This version of The Last Old Shovel is inlcuded in the Rounder collection O Sister – The Women’s Bluegrass Collection, which also has tracks from Delia Bell, Claire Lynch, Hazel Dickens, Wilma Lee Cooper and Rhonda Vincent.