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The Ballad of Frankie Silver

Film by Tom Davenport
Produced by Tom Davenport, Daniel Patterson
Cinematographer: Tom Davenport, Jonathan Hamilton, Michael Oniffrey
Sound: Jon Nichols, Matthew Jones
Editing: Matthew Jones
Copyright: 1996, Tom Davenport
47 minutes, Color
Original format: 8mm: Hi8 Video, 1996
Distributor: Davenport Films
More Film Facts
Home streaming only. For other permissions apply to Tom Davenport or to the distributor, Davenport Films.


Preview one minute trailer - Comment on film


In 1833 Mrs. Frances Silver was hanged in Morganton, North Carolina, for the ax murder of her husband Charles. For a century and a half the case has lived on in newspapers, pamphlets, memoirs, petitions, legends, a Sharyn McCrumb novel, plays, a ballet, documentary films, websites, and folksong scholarship. Did Frankie have cause to act or hope of justice? The Ballad of Frankie Silver explores the case through the singing and stories of Bobby McMillon and the comments of North Carolina Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Gray and others.

Bobby McMillon, the recipient of a North Carolina Folk Heritage Award, is a member of the Silver family and learned stories about Frankie as he grew up in the community where the murder took place. In the epilogue Making of the Ballad Singer (begins at 36:25), Bobby and his singing partner Marina Trivette tell how they developed a love for Appalachian ballads and tales as children.

The video was directed by Tom Davenport and produced with folklorist Daniel Patterson. Patterson's book A Tree Accurst: Bobby McMillon and Stories of Frankie Silver, won the 2001 Chicago Folklore Prize. Through the Frankie Silver material it explores the interplay between folklore, social and personal history, law, and narrative conventions as people try to understand human character and fate.

Bobby McMillon performs in a CD Lords and Merry Maids All: Mountain Love Songs and Child Ballads. Available from Ivycreek.com which also carries other recording of authentic mountain music.

The Ballad of Frankie Silver raises issues which will captivate folklorists, historians, and others who research and document community turning points. The relationship between history, legend, and ballad has never been so clearly illustrated, and the film's feminist slant resonants with contemporary audiences.
--- Sharon Sherman, The Journal of American Folklore

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