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Roy Harper

(1925-2021) born in Coffee County, lived in Manchester
Union Station, 2003
oil on canvas, 30 42 inches, 2003.97

This painting depicts the Dixie Flyer steam locomotive departing Nashville’s Union Station in March 1943 at 5:10 p.m. Harper determined the time from an old train schedule, and for technical details he studied the 576 N.C. & St. L (the initials stand for Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railway) steam engine. This locomotive was chosen in 1953 donated to the City of Nashville for display in Centennial Park and is currently being restored.

As a boy Harper was struck by the lure of the railroad and the songs of Jimmie Rodgers, “The Singing Brakeman.” He gained firsthand experience with both before he was twenty, working railroad jobs in several parts of the country while also performing as an itinerant musician. During stints in Manchester, TN in the later 1940s and 50s, he became known throughout the region for his partnership with Blake Bynum in the Sand Mountain Boys. During the 1960s he began recording his huge repertory of both “blue yodels” and sentimental songs, and he also made reputation for himself as a self-taught painter of railroad scenes from his own experience. Harper performed in the Tennessee program at the 1986 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife. In 2003 Harper received the Governor’s Arts Folklife Heritage Award. Currently, Spring Fed Records in planning to release a new album from Harper titled, I’m Not Gone Yet, Real-deal, Old Time Country Songs.