The Story Behind the Song – Black Flowers

Songs about coal mining have been a part of folk music from the time when major commercial production began in earnest in Appalachia in the 1870s, as exemplified by John Wallace Crawford’s Only a Miner Killed, composed in 1877. 

Later, Florence Reece’s Which Side Are You On? was a question about the miners in a 1931 strike in Harlan County, Kentucky. 

They are present in early country music – witness the Carter Family’s Coal Miner’s Blues, recorded in 1938, and later, in 1946, singer-songwriter Merle Travis, whose father and brothers were coal miners, wrote the oft-recorded lament Dark as a Dungeon. 

Nowadays there are many coal mining songs in the country/americana/bluegrass catalog. These include Come All You Coalminers; The L & N Don’t Stop Here Anymore; Jean Ritchie’s West Virginia Mine Disaster;  several by Hazel Dickens many of which are classics including Black Lung, Coal Miner’s Grave, The Mannington Mine Disaster and They’ll Never Keep Us Down; the heart-aching Dream of a Miner’s Child; Come All You Coal Miners; Last Train from Poor Valley; Randall Hilton’s Coal Town Saturday Night; Coal Black Mining Blues; One Morning in May; Dixie and Tom T. Hall’s I’m A Coal Mining Man; Billy Edd Wheeler’s Coal Tattoo; Darrell Scott’s You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive; Dwight Yoakam’s Miner’s Prayer; Green Rolling Hills (of West Virginia); John Prine’s Paradise; In Those Mines; Daddy’s Dinner Bucket; Becky Buller’s In Those Mines; Steve Earle’s The Mountain; Tim Stafford’s Union Man and Valerie Smith’s In Those Mines, to mention a few. 

Another recently penned coal mining song is Lynn Miles’ evocative ballad, Black Flowers, recorded by Claire Lynch and found on her 2016 CD, North by South (Compass Records), a set of songs by Canadian artists. 

As have many others, Miles’ song, Black Flowers, has its origins in West Virginia ….  

“I was playing on the Mountain Stage radio show in West Virginia many years ago. I was on tour, so I was driving around that part of the country. 

I was struck by the shape of the hills, and the little houses and trailers that folks were living in at the bottom of these hills. It seemed like they would never get any sunlight. I started thinking about the coal miners who worked underground then went home to a place with no sunlight. I wondered if any flowers would grow there, and I imagined coal dust falling on a flower.

I’m always interested in the person who’s not in the spotlight, the bit player in the drama, so I thought about the woman who would be at home in this setting, and the dangerous work of coal miners. 

Also, I’d been carrying around the idea that the funeral parlor is usually the nicest building in depressed little towns.”

Black Flowers

I live beside this old coal mine
the whistle blows every day on time
when rain pours down and the wind blows hard
black flowers grow in my yard

When I lost my man down that old coal shaft
I swear I heard the devil
and the angels left and they took my heart
and black flowers grow in my yard

The under taker is a busy man
he got a clean blue shirt and soft pink hands
he got a paved drive way and a brand new car
and black flowers grow in my yard

When the baby cries I sing “hush little one”
but I fear that I’m gonna come undone
when the rain pours down and the wind blows hard
black flowers grow in my yard

black flowers grow in my yard
black flowers grow in my yard

Music and Lyrics by Lynn Miles © 2000

Mummy Dust Music Copyright reserved

Claire Lynch’s superb rendition of Black Flowers is rated a standout track on her Grammy® nominated album, North by South. 

Lynn Miles

Lynn Miles, from Quebec, is one of Canada’s most accomplished singer/songwriters; she began composing songs at the age of ten. 

She wrote and arranged her winter music show Songs for The Longest Night for which she performed with a string quartet at the National Arts Centre in December 2014. Music from the show was included on her 2015 CD release Winter.

Her song Three Chords and the Truth was included in an episode of the popular BBC TV show Case Histories 2 (2013).

Miles has 15 albums to her credit, with her third Unravel having claimed the Canadian Juno Best Roots and Traditional Album (Solo) for 2003; while her first, Slightly Haunted, was a Billboard magazine Top 10 pick for the year (1996). 

Also, she has a variety of Canadian Folk Music awards; in 2005 for Best English Songwriter & Best Contemporary Singer; in 2011 she was named English Songwriter of the Year; and in 2013 she was heralded as the Solo Artist of The Year.  

Miles has toured and continues to tour across North American, GB and Europe. 

She has produced several CDs for other artists, including two by singer/songwriter Lynne Hanson, with whom Miles has performed as The LYNNeS.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.