The Ballad of Frankie Silver

This is a short preview trailer. You can watch the entire film at no charge on the Folkstreams website. Folkstreams is a nonprofit whose mission is to find, preserve, contextualize, and stream documentary films on American folklife.

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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.

  • Film by: Tom Davenport
  • Produced by: Tom Davenport, Daniel Patterson
  • Cinematographer: Tom Davenport, Jonathan Hamilton, Michael Oniffrey
  • Sound: Jon Nichols, Matthew Jones
  • Editor: Matthew Jones
  • Funding: NC Arts Council, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, New Century Films
  • Original Format: 8mm: Hi8 Video
  • © 1996
  • 47mins, Color