Born in 1919 and raised deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Madison County, Doug Wallin sang time-honored ballads, hymns, and love songs in the style and tradition of his ancestors. He performed with a natural artistry and a reverence for the meaning and heritage of the old songs.
Wallin learned much of his seemingly limitless repertoire from his mother Berzilla, and from other close relatives. Many of his most cherished ballads, such as “The House Carpenter” and “Barbara Allen,” originated in the British Isles and were brought to America with the first settlers.
Wallin lived in the Laurel Country, an area visited by English ballad collector Cecil Sharp nearly a century ago. Sharp was astonished to find “a community in which singing was as common and almost as universal a practice as speaking.” At the time of his visit, folk balladry had all but disappeared in England. Sharp documented numerous ballads from Doug’s relatives, several of which appear in his famous published collection English Folksongs of the Southern Appalachians.
Instrumental music was also valued in the Wallin family. Doug’s father, Lee, was a banjo player and his brother Jack played the banjo and guitar. And although singing was his special gift, Doug played the fiddle quite well.
Doug Wallin stayed close to home most of his life, farming the family land. He rarely traveled from Madison County, but occasionally ventured out to share his singing with audiences at Western Carolina University, Mars Hill College, and Berea College. He also performed at the Festival of American Folklife, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, and the British American Festival, held in Durham in 1984. Doug Wallin was a 1989 recipient of the North Carolina Heritage Award.