I love music of all types: from Moussorgsky to Metallica, Bach to Bee Gees, Disney tunes to the Doors. I learn more and more how musically talented are so many members of the bleeding disorder community. Perhaps music becomes an escape or a way to express deep feelings? Below, Richard Atwood of North Carolina, who does "Richard's Review" in our newsletter PEN, profiles a talented family from West Virginia, from a book he's uncovered.
For 5 generations, the Currence family lived in High Germany on the Randolph-Upshur county line in West Virginia. Jimmie Currence (1932-1992) and Loren Currence (1934-1987) grew up in a six-room house that was over 4 miles from a hard-surfaced road. The nearby one-room school house in High Germany housed 45 students over 8 grades.
There was no family history of hemophilia until an older brother died when 2 years old after he bled out from a bumped nose. Jimmie and Loren also had hemophilia but were not diagnosed until their twenties. They had 4 normal brothers and 5 sisters. Jimmie and Loren never even visited a doctor until their teens. They had no ice for treatment and nothing for pain. For treatment, the brothers used high-powered liniments from Blair products for hemorrhages into their joints. Before factor VIII, the brothers received blood transfusions. Loren once received 16 pints of blood in 36 hours for a kidney bleed and Jimmy, as a teenager, was given a pint of blood from his brother-in-law to treat a stomach bleed.
After Doctor Mabel M. Stevenson, a hematologist at Morgantown University Hospital, examined their blood, the brothers received a diagnosis of severe classical hemophilia. The brothers considered themselves to be severe hemophilic "bleeders" with near zero clotting factor levels.
Jimmy Currence explained his bleeding episodes: “We would get all hemorrhaged in the joint. We would be swollen up till we couldn’t do a thing, just couldn’t walk. Even take spells of bleeding internally. Internal bleeding could be either inside you or it would be internally in a joint or under the skin—caused hemorrhaging like that. And then that way it would lay you up.” (p. 198).
Every member of the Currence family was musical, either playing musical instruments or singing, though none were trained. The children would listen to the battery radio, or hear live entertainment, and then pick out the tune on a guitar, fiddle, or mandolin. The brothers Jimmie, Loren, Marvin (called Shorty), and Buddy, along with Malcomb Pastine, a nephew who also had hemophilia, formed the Currence Brothers Band. The band played gospel and bluegrass music, and even produced six long-playing recordings of their music. Loren played the guitar, sang, and managed the band. Jimmy played the fiddle, and was even a four-time fiddle champion at the Mountain State Forest Festival in Elkins, before elbow bleeds forced him to play the banjo.
Jimmie and Loren could never find full-time employment or get insurance. They received Supplemental Social Security and the state paid for their medicine as they could not afford it. Both brothers married, and each had three daughters
The family was profiled in Goldenseal magazine in the 1980 article ‘The Currence Brothers: “The Spark to Play Music,” written by Jack Waugh and Michael Kline.The profile of the Currence brothers is augmented with 5 photographs. Begun in 1975, the magazine Goldenseal is published by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. It is a journal for local cultural traditions and life experiences, including music, in West Virginia.
John Lilly, editor, 1999, Mountains of Music: West Virginia Traditional Music from ‘Goldenseal.’ Urbana, IL: University of Chicago Press. 235 pages.