A Funeral Singer Talks, And Barbara Kingsolver Writes, About Appalachia


This week, we travel to Charleston, West Virginia, to learn about the importance of funeral singers to Black communities. We’ll also hear about a new tool whose maker believes he can help save thousands of lives from fatal opioid overdoses. And we talk with author Barbara Kingsolver about the influence of Appalachia in her books.

You’ll hear these stories and more this week, Inside Appalachia.

In This Episode: 

The Funeral Singer

For many Black communities throughout the country, music is an essential component of end-of-life rituals. When a loved one dies, families often call upon a skilled singer to perform at a funeral as a way to offer comfort and healing.

Folkways Reporter Leeshia Lee introduces us to Michelle Dyess, who is one of the go-to singers that people in Charleston, West Virginia request when it’s time to plan a funeral.

Funeral Singing Photo 1.jpeg

Michelle Dyess
Michelle Dyess grew up singing in her church choir, and has since become one of the premiere funeral singers in Charleston’s Black community.

Lyme Disease Lurks With Ticks

Fall colors are really beginning to pop along the Blue Ridge Parkway. For a lot of people, this is the peak season to get outdoors. But while the end of summer comes with a drop in biting flies and mosquitos, we’re not out of the woods yet. Folks venturing out into the forest are still at risk for tick bites and Lyme disease. Here in central and northern Appalachia, we’re in prime Lyme disease country.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Chris Schulz sat down with former West Virginia state health officer Dr. Ayne Amjad to discuss safety and prevention.

The Great Eastern Trail

In 1948, a hiker named Earl Shaffer came up with the idea of an alternative to the Appalachian Trail — the hiking only trail that passes through 14 states and spans nearly 2,200 miles.

Named the Great Eastern Trail, this other route stretches from the deep south to New England, just west of the Appalachian Trail, but it wasn’t until 2007 that the Great Eastern Trail Association was created and parts of the trail began to open up to hikers.

As West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Jessica Lilly reports, when hikers get to southern West Virginia, they find a trail that is incomplete.

A Box To Help Stop Overdoses

Opioid addiction costs thousands of lives each year. Health officials and advocates are thinking creatively to find ways to stem the loss — but not everyone is thinking outside of the box to find solutions. Some people are thinking very much inside the box. Inside Appalachia Producer Bill Lynch has this story.

Barbara Kingsolver And Appalachia

Barbara Kingsolver is one of Appalachia’s most acclaimed authors. Her novel “The Poisonwood Bible” held down a spot on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year. It’s been in development at HBO since 2019.

Kingsolver’s fiction takes readers all over the world, but she says her Appalachian roots inspire key parts of her stories. West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Liz McCormick sat down with Kingsolver to learn more.


Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Jesse Milnes, The Company Stores, Tyler Childers and The Appalachian Road Show.

Bill Lynch is our producer. Our executive producer is Eric Douglas. Kelley Libby is our editor. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode.

You can find us on Instagram and Twitter @InAppalachia.

And you can sign-up for our Inside Appalachia Newsletter here!