Chattanooga Now In Tune: Might I still be picking and grinning in 2078?

Chattanooga Now In Tune: Might I still be picking and grinning in 2078?

April 25th, 2013 by Casey Phillips in Chattnow Music

Last week, I met a woman who convinced me that, even if genes and circumstance conspire to keep me from reaching my 100th birthday, I'd settle for anything past 90.

I first heard about Lidabell Beagles when a co-worker told me she clogged with a woman whose 93-year-old mother-in-law played mandolin in The Valley Singers, a bluegrass/gospel band. Intrigued, I drove to LaFayette, Ga., to interview her for a story that ran Tuesday.

After our brief visit, I can honestly say that, of all the remarkably talented people I've met in my dual careers as journalist and amateur musician, few have captured my fascination as completely as she did.

Lidabell -- an adorably appropriate name if ever I've heard one -- looks at least a decade younger than her 93 years. The black in her permed hair is still holding its own, and her hands have a strength that is probably as much the product of playing music as it is the decades she spent weaving at Peerless Woolen Mills in Rossville.

Sitting at her feet as she told me her life story, I was enthralled, in part because it was undeniably fascinating but also because of the number of parallels to my own musical upbringing.

Lidabell and I share a talent for learning songs by ear, and we both picked up the mandolin as teenagers. She stopped shortly thereafter to start a family and didn't hold a pick again for about 60 years, but she came back to music in the mid-'90s, less than a year before I started playing.

After we chatted, we did what pickers and grinners always do and, well, picked and grinned for a bit, playing gospel standards and Hughie Cannon's Dixieland standard "(Won't You Come Home) Bill Bailey."

I've played with many people in the last 20 years, but something about Lidabell has had her running laps around my brain for the last week.

Maybe it's because, thanks to modern medical advances and my own family background, I could very well reach 93 myself (in 2078). Or perhaps it's because music seems to have given her such joy and helped the years weigh less heavily on her than it does on others.

Whatever is at the root of my admiration, I can say with surety that she's given me hope that, should I crest 90, music will still have the energizing quality and depth of meaning that makes me treasure it now.

And if I value it so much at 27, how much deeper will that love be 66 years from now?

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.