When Sturgill Simpson made his Grand Ole Opry debut on August 23rd, 2013, he said the thrill of getting to play The Opry was still not as big as getting to play the Opry while his grandfather, a former coal miner named Dood Fraley, was in attendance.
“He spent his entire childhood growing up in Eastern Kentucky so poor it can’t be put into words,” Sturgill says. A native of Kentucky, some of the inspiration for Sturgill’s debut record High Top Mountain came from his grandfather. “They had one radio in the coal camp that every one would gather around every Saturday night and listen to The Grand Ole Opry. He always talked about how The Opry was like magic coming out of that box.”
In honor of two sold out Sturgill Simpson shows at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles, promotions company AEG Live recently made a donation to the United Mine Workers of America on Sturgill Simpson’s behalf. United Mine Workers is a union that represents coal miners, clean coal technicians, health care workers, truck drivers, manufacturing workers and public employees throughout the United States and Canada.
And Sturgill is not the only high-flying country music Kentuckian who recently donated to the organization. Chris Stapleton, whose father was a Kentucky coal miner, also donated to the United Mine Workers recently. The songwriter cites the death of his father from a couple of years ago as one of the direct inspirations for his record Traveller, which propelled him to three big wins at the 2015 CMA Awards earlier this month.
At the annual Country Radio Seminar in Nashville earlier in 2015, Stapleton took the stage and placed a big chunk of black coal on a stool beside him. “That sat on my dad’s desk for years. It was the first piece of coal he ever mined,” Stapleton said, before dedicating his next song to his late father.
“Knowing the situation a lot of coal miners find themselves in today, which is laid off, they wanted to make these donations to help miners and their families as we’re getting into the holidays,” says Phil Smith of the United Mine Workers. “We have what we call a miners relief fund, which makes direct assistance to miners and their families, helps with food banks, toys, and other stuff for around the holidays.”
Throughout the history of country music, artists with strong ties to the land and the working class have used music to pull themselves out of poverty, and to turn around and help instill a sense of pride in the people who put such hard work into powering America. Now that these two once struggling musicians find themselves on top, they’re taking of their hard-earned prosperity to give back to the communities that sewed the seeds of their success.