Biography:Sarah Armstrong

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SARAH ARMSTRONG. Sarah Elizabeth Gray was born in 1883 in Gray Station, Derry, Derry, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, the eldest child (. She grew up in a musical family descended from Ulster-Irish immigrants; her grandfather was a fiddler, and hs sons Charley (Sarah's father), Laney, Abe, Joss and Dan were all musicians who played a variety of instruments and were accustomed to playing for dances. The extended Gray family also boasted of musical members; her first cousins (Gray) also had a family band. Sarah began learning fiddle at the age of five, mentored in particular by her uncle Laney, who was the most accomplished fiddler in the family. However, Sarah's family band (The Gray Boys) broke up around 1910 when Laney moved to the far Western United States, although individual members still played for dances in the area. Menton of the extended Gray family music making can be found in Eleanor Thomas's book Community Express, in her section on Gray Station. She recalled: “Dances were held at the Grays. Lena Gray would play the piano, or organ, and Davie would play the fiddle. What good times they were! Dance until early morning.” [Davis Gray (1847-1923) and his daughter, Lena, born in 1879. Davis was a son of Israel Gray, Sarah’s grandfather] [1]. Sarah married Charles Armstrong in 1899, and although she later had children with whom she made music, they did not retain an interest in the older repertory and her tunes were not passed along.

Penn State Professor Samuel Bayard had an uncle who had a farm nearby, where he had spent summers. When visiting one day, he came to understand that neighbors in the area were musical, and, being interested in folk music collecting, he sought them out. He visited Sarah Armstrong on two occasions in November, 1943, and transcribed nearly forty tunes from her playing, which formed the core of his book Hill Country Tunes (1944), and also appeared in his later volume Dance to the Fiddle, March to the Fife (1981).

  1. John Matviya, "Tunes of Gray: Derry’s Own Sarah Gray Armstrong and the Gray Boys" [1]