The Southwest Virginia old-time music community lost a long-time enthusiast, performer, and contributor when Donna Kirk Correll, 61, passed away on January 19, 2019, after a courageous battle with late-stage breast cancer.
Donna was probably best known for her 25 years of performing and recording with the Wolfe Brothers String Band based in Elk Creek, Virginia. Donna played bass and was a featured vocalist. In addition to five Wolfe Brothers CDs, she appears on several compilations and projects by other artists including Erynn Marshall, Kitty Amaral, and Tom and Jina Rosencrans.
Donna was born and raised in the Gold Hill community of Grayson County, Virginia, where she was a childhood neighbor of Enoch Rutherford. She was proud of her musical heritage.
Apart from her highly regarded bass-playing, Donna loved to sing, especially a cappella versions of old folk songs, ballads, and hymns. When someone else was singing lead, Donna’s voice would quietly slip in on a beautiful harmony, supporting the song. Her style has been described as honest, soft, and genuine, without contrivance. She sang just as she spoke.
Her original ballad “Green Wood” was composed while she was still a student at Emory & Henry College. It’s the story of the scaffold builder at the last judicial hanging in Grayson County. Donna’s great-grandfather presided over the execution as sheriff.
With a bright smile and friendly greeting for everyone, Donna founded the long-running 1908 Courthouse old-time jam while she was tourism director for Grayson County, playing bass for the jam until her illness intervened.
She enjoyed fiddlers’ conventions and took home many folk song and band prizes. Clifftop was a favorite. She would spend a week or more there, drifting between demands for her bass work and the song circles she loved.
After retiring from county employment, Donna taught dulcimer and vocals to children in the Junior Appalachian Musician program. She loved working with kids and spreading the joy of traditional music.
Many people will remember her personally from the “Grand Picnics” which she hosted with fiddler husband Jerry at their home in Elk Creek for 25 years (1993-2017). Hundreds of old-time musicians flocked to the Correll home on the Saturday of the Grayson County Fiddlers’ Convention to share tunes and fellowship as well as potluck dishes, venison and Chesapeake Bay crabs. One picnic featured 17 simultaneous jams scattered around the pond, porch, barn, and grounds. Donna floated among her guests with hugs, giggles, shared memories—and at the last picnics, granddaughter Aubrey.
Donna rests in the Cox’s Chapel Methodist Church’s hillside cemetery, near the New River and over looking the beautiful hills of Grayson and Alleghany counties.