Frank Proffitt & “Tom Dooley”

The Tom Dooley Files Interview with Frank Proffitt, Jr. –

Proffitt CU
                       FRANK PROFFITT, JR.  [Sept. 8, 1946 – Aug. 7, 2005]                         

                  – Son of internationally known folk singer, Frank Proffitt, Sr. –                       

   From The Tom Dooley Files – “I didn’t know the song ‘Tom Dooley’ existed until the ballad came out (in 1958) and my father started telling us about it. I’d heard him sing that song, but I didn’t know it was true. I thought it was made up.”
   The Proffitt family itself was made up of storytellers, singers and pickers who, like almost half of the men in western North Carolina, had ‘gone cross the mountain’ and served in the Union Army, fighting against allowing the Confederacy to secede from the United States. The family version of the song was passed down from Frank’s great grandmother, Adeline (Pardue) Proffitt, who told them she’d heard Tom Dooley singing the song while he was in his jail cell in Statesville awaiting his hanging. It was the song Frank and Anne Warner heard when they came from New York City to North Carolina in 1938 to pick up a dulcimer made by Nathan Hix, Frank, Jr’s. grandfather.
   “That’s what they come down for, not to collect songs, but that’s when they got the song collecting fever. Frank Warner thought my father was the best picker there of all the singers, so the third song he sang was ‘Tom Dooley.’ Frank’s wife took it down as ‘Hang down your head, Tom Dewey,’ because that was the name of the governor of New York and she had him on her mind, I reckon. Fortunately, she corrected it or it might never have made the hit solo for the Kingston Trio or nothing.”

                         proffitt Sr          Proffitt Banjo

   The Warner Photo of Frank Proffitt, Sr. is from Traditional American Folk Songs by Frank and Anne Warner with the permission of Jeff Warner.  Photos of Frank Proffitt, Jr. are by Bill Barnes taken from on-screen stills of Frank’s May 16, 1992 oral history interview.  Tom Dooley as performed by Frank Proffitt, Jr. is from his Cloudlands Music, Kickin’ Up Dust album, ©1992 by permission of Frank Proffitt, Jr.


The Tom Dooley Files by author Charlotte Corbin Barnes separates the myths from the facts.




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