I presented “The Cumberland Suite” at the Nevada Theatre in Nevada City, CA on October 18, 2013. Inspired by a journal written by my great-great-great grandmother, Priscilla Beall McKaig, it’s an American story, a personal history of the Civil War and its aftermath, told through song, music, and spoken word. My sister Susan McKaig and her husband, Kentucky born David Fitts, performed in it, and as is often the case, Luke Wilson and Murray Campbell accompanied me on their instruments and with their voices. Margot Duxler also added her elegant violin playing to a piece or two, and Perry Stauffer played bass. Paul Emery graciously helped to produce the event.
Most unfortunately, in the spring of 1870, Myra Black, then 28, gave birth to a baby boy in Cumberland, Maryland, whose resemblance to my great-great grandfather, William Wallace McKaig Jr (we call him Willie, a Civil War Confederate officer) was by all accounts, notable. Willie, 29 years of age, and from a well-to-do family, was married. Not to Myra, however. The birth of Myra’s baby was, to say the least, a major scandal in Cumberland, if not all Maryland. Myra’s brother, Harry Crawford Black, 24, also a Confederate Army veteran, armed himself with two pistols and confronted Willie early one morning in downtown Cumberland and killed him. At the subsequent murder trial, Black was acquitted of the crime on the grounds that he had justifiably defended his family’s honor.
Willie’s mother, my great-great-great grandmother, Priscilla Beall McKaig, kept a journal before, during and after the Civil War. Understandably, perhaps, Priscilla mentions none of the above events in her journal. As to Myra and her child, after the trial they disappeared from public record. Myra’s fate haunted me. So, I decided to search for her. Over the past thirty years, I’ve read thousands of passport and passenger lists, birth, death, and marriage certificates, census reports, newspaper articles, hundreds of gravestones, spent time in Cumberland and Gettysburg, and have had the most fascinating on-going correspondence with the famed host of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots”, Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr.– who may or may not be my cousin. This search, which has been both mundane and at times marvelously mystical, inspired me to write a cycle of songs.