banjo man from Webster County

By Dan Henley

This is a story about a banjo man from Webster County.

My grandfather, Robert Marion Henley, was born Oct. 31, 1889, in Walthall. He got his banjo at age 9 and became a very good player.

His great-grandfather, James C. Henley, came to Webster County before 1840 and settled in what is now Old Cumberland.

In 1912 he married his former teacher, my grandmother, Cora Irene Womack, from Mantee. Grandmother was the fifth of 14 children born to Andrew Jackson and Mary Jane Skelton Womack.

Andrew was a self-made man. His father died in the Civil War when Andrew was only 4 and left him with his mother and three older sisters. They owned 80 acres and a log cabin; he was at one time one of the largest landowners in the county.

Marion and Irene Henley had 10 children. My father was the eighth, Charles Haven Henley, who was also born at Walthall, in 1926.

Marion moved his family to Itta Bena in 1931 to farm, as many families in the hills did at that time. On July 4, 1931, at the height of the Great Depression, he left home to go to a party to play his banjo. As he was returning home the throttle stuck in his truck and he was killed.

I inherited his old banjo four years ago, repaired it to a playable state two years ago and learned to play it in the old style. I, along with my wife, wrote a song about his life, and sometimes in my performance I play his banjo and sing that song, which follows.

I am now retired and travel around the Southeast playing and performing as “Dancin’ Dan the Banjo Man.”

Grandmother moved back to the hills and raised her 10 children. Marion and Irene are buried at Hebron cemetery east of Walthall.

‘Webster County Man’ By Dan and Frankie Henley He was just a poor man of Webster County clay But times were so hard in the hills that day He looked for a better life so he moved from the hills Well he worked every day in that black flatland dirt And tho he grew weary, his back and hands hurt He would get down his ole banjo and play us a song About them good old days in his Webster County home It was the 4th of July in the year of ’31 left home for Itta Bena to play his banjo and have some fun. When he started home that evening the throttle it stuck. He couldn’t make that curve in that old Model T truck. About this Webster County man there are many more things to say And I know we will all see him on that great Judgment Day I love to tell the story about his life on Earth and play his ole banjo for all it’s worth ____ Editor’s Note: Dan Henley is a resident of Harrisville in Simpson County. He may be contacted at 601-847-5191.