Appalachia Music

The Long Black Veil

The Long Black Veil

The Long Black Veil was written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin. Danny Dill had a spot on the Grand Ole Opry with his wife called The Annie Lou and Danny Act during the 50s. Dill went on to have a successful song writing career as well. Marijohn Wilkin was a song writer, a backup singer, and a recording artist. She is often credited with discovering Kris Kristofferson. offers this quote from Dill about writing The Long Black Veil:

“I got a kick with Burl Ives song — those old songs—but I didn’t know any, and I had no way to find any at the time, or was too lazy to look. So I said, ‘I’ll write me a folk song’—an instant folksong, if you will. So I worked on it for months and then it all came to me. There’s three incidents I’ve read about in my life that really pleased me. There was a Catholic priest killed in New Jersey many years ago under a town hall light and there was no less than 50 witnesses. They never found a motive. they never found the man. Until this day, it’s an unsolved murder. That always intrigued me, so that’s ‘under the town hall light.’ Then Randolph Valentino story’s always impressed me—about the woman that always used to visit his grave. She always wore a long black veil—now there’s the title for the song. And the third component was Red Foley’s ‘God Walks These Hills With Me.’ I always thought that was a great song, so I got that in there too. I just scrambled it all up and that’s what came out.”
—Danny Dill

In March of 1959 Wilkin set up an appointment with Lefty Frizzell-in the hopes of pitching some of her songs. Just a few hours prior to the meeting, Dill and Wilkin had completed The Long Black Veil. Wilkin brought the song along to her appointment and before the day was over Lefty Frizzell had recorded it. The song made it to #6 on the charts.

A few years ago, Paul shared the story of Lefty Frizzell recording the song with me:

Lefty recorded it there in the building just about an hour after hearing it for the first time. The song writers said the song turned out better that way because the record company didn’t have time to overproduce the song with strings, back-up singers, and such. If you turn the volume up really loud on the original recording, you can hear Lefty clear his throat a couple of beats before singing the first line.

People often associate The Long Black Veil with Appalachia and are sometimes surprised to learn the song isn’t a traditional ballad and really isn’t even that old when you compare it to true Appalachian Murder Ballads.

I like the song-especially when Paul sings it. The line that gives me goosebumps every time is: The scaffold is high and eternity near She stood in the crowd and shed not a tear.

Hope you enjoyed the history and the song!


*Sources: “Marijohn Wilkin | Biography | AllMusic.”AllMusic | Music Search, Recommendations, Videos and Reviews. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2013. <>. | “Rosanne Cash Honors History of ‘The List’.” The Boot – Country Music News, Music Videos and Songs. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2013. <>. | “The Long Black Veil – The Story Behind The Song.” Country Music Treasures. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2013. <>. | “ -Danny Dill.” – Home of Old-Time Country Music. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2013. <>.

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  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, Ph.D.
    October 20, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Tipper: I’ll bet you would enjoy Kathryn Stripling Byer’s “Long Black Veil Poem” on her blog page. Very different as compared to the sad song. You may know that Kathryn is teaching at Western Carolina in Cullowhee.
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    October 20, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    Loved the singing and pickin’ this morning. Ken I would like to be doing what you are doing. Don’t have a granddaughter but, believe me if I did she would be SPOILED rotten.

  • Reply
    October 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Long black veils remind me of funerals and death. I remember seeing Jackie Kennedy in a black veil which really sticks out in my mind. Black veils remind me of deep sadness and someone hurting. Paul does a great job with the words and tune.

  • Reply
    October 20, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Beautiful story and Paul has a very melodious voice for this song…enjoyed very much.

  • Reply
    Lola Howard
    October 20, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    Just love the song and no one has ever sang it better than Paul .

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 20, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Went back, found the picture, she was carrying a black lace umbrella….Oh well, close enough! Guess it was her long black hair showing and I thought it was a veil…
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS..Still “skeery” and BTW it had a “crow” sitting on the top of the circle on the tombstone…ooooooh! Maybe that is why I didn’t delete it. I remember you likeing crows so much!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 20, 2013 at 11:22 am

    By the way, the video only has audio so you’ll have to look elsewhere to see the guitar I am coveting. It is a 1935 Small Box Epiphone Olympia Arch Top.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    October 20, 2013 at 11:16 am

    One of my all time favorites beautifully & poignantly done by Paul. The most surprising version I’ve heard was Mick Jagger with the Chieftains
    Blessed Sunday.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 20, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Did somebody mention Gillian Welch and David Rawlings?
    I love his guitar. If I ever get close enough I’m gonna jump up on the stage, grab that thang and run like a scalded haint.

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    October 20, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Lawsy me, How I love this song and Paul does an awesome job on it. my uncles have sung it over the years so much. I didn’t know all of the history on it and thank you so much for posting it.

  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    October 20, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Interesting history. Love this simple straightforward version. Perfect.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 20, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Oooooh, it has happened again! Was it a “cowinky-dinky”? Somehow I can’t believe it was. I was thumming thru Facebook last night and ran across a picture of a woman standing on a slight hill.
    It was dark and woods around. She had on a long black dress and a long black veil. In front of her was a tombstone of the olden type, medium tall with a cross and a circle…I just took it as something someone posted for Halloween and started to delete it…but for some reason I didn’t. I had been deleting those familiar Halloween crafts and posts as I went thru…
    Now I am going to have to go back and see if I can find this picture again. Did I dream it…or not…I don’t even remember if it had a caption! Is “Spooky week” starting already for me!?!
    I loved the song and love Paul’s voice and singing. Thanks for the history too.
    Oh boy, it is goin’ to be a “skeery” Halloween this year me thinks! LOL
    Thanks Tipper and Paul,
    It is so foggy here this morning. I wonder if we are going to have snow thru February!! We didn’t have a frost this mornin’ but upon the plateau, they predicted one. I heard coyotes very close to the house night before last.
    The distant neighbor that used to put them down “croaked” and I think their kin (coyotes) have now come back two-fold! Scary! The game warden said they would but I just skoffed at him! Guess he knew something I didn’t!
    Oh, by the way, one was wearing a long black veil! LOL

  • Reply
    Bob Dalsemer
    October 20, 2013 at 9:39 am

    A great spooky song for Halloween! I can’t think of any other song in which the narrator is a ghost! I always enjoyed the bluegrass version by the Country Gentlemen.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 20, 2013 at 9:16 am

    It was 33 at my house this morning
    and ICE on my windshield…Ken

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 20, 2013 at 9:14 am

    That was beautifully done by Paul.
    It’s nice to just hear his voice
    and pickin’. Sometimes a song is
    better without all that background
    I’ve been in granddaughter Heaven
    this weekend with my daughters and
    lots of nieces, and the only brother
    I got left…Ken

  • Reply
    October 20, 2013 at 8:54 am

    I’ve have always associated Long Black Veil with eerie, ghostly and send a chill up my spine kind of song. Paul would have made Lefty proud.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    October 20, 2013 at 8:42 am

    Tipper–Thanks for the stellar research. I’ve always been partial to this haunting, harrowing song and had assumed its underpinnings were an Appalachian tragedy. I’m now disabused of that misconception, but it won’t lessen my liking of the song.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    October 20, 2013 at 8:36 am

    Paul does a great job on one of my favorites, I don’t know how many different artists I’ve heard do this song, they range from country bad boy David Allan Coe to folk great Joan Baez with Johnny Cash, Hank Jr. and others thrown in. There are as many stylizations as there are artists but as a true test of a great song, they all work, just as Paul’s does. Thanks for the history of the song.

  • Reply
    Lonnie Dockery
    October 20, 2013 at 8:18 am

    Mother listened to Bobby Bare’s version over and over again! I like the way Danny Dill “scrambled it all up” but I never knew the story. I like Paul’s singing better.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 20, 2013 at 7:23 am

    Tipper, I find that an amazing story. She wrote that song from random snippets of life that caught her fancy over the years. Do you suppose we all have a song in us somewhere if we just knew how to bring it out.
    I have a snippet like that that came from my childhood. It comes back to me frequently. I’ve always just figured that something would come along to complete it then it would go away.
    Want to know my snippet? Well there was an Abbot and Costello movie. The movie was about a robbery where the money was hidden in a grandfather clock. The snippet is “time is money, look in the clock”. It was the short one of the two who said it. I don’t have a clue why it stuck in my mind, but it’s still there and that was a looong time ago.
    Doesn’t sound like it would fit in a song, guess I’ll just have to keep waiting for something to complete it.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 20, 2013 at 7:07 am

    The Long Black Veil is one of my favorite songs, thank you for the background.

  • Reply
    Gina S
    October 20, 2013 at 5:53 am

    Nice to know the story of one of the saddest tunes I’ve ever heard. I’ve loved it since first listen back in the late sixties. I believe Marty Robbins did that version. My mind imagined a woman wearing a long black dress and a veil as she climbed to a burying ground up on the side of a mountain. She seemed to be endlessly searching a connection with her lost love. Thank you for sharing this excellent rendition.

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