Kelle Jolly and the story behind "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain"

Kelle Jolly is known as “The Tennessee Ukulele Lady,” and is one of East Tennessee’s most celebrated jazz musicians. In this performance at April’s Rural Assembly Everywhere, Jolly sings a medley of songs, including “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.”

“You may think: That’s a children’s song! It is known as a children’s song now, in present day,” Jolly said. “But the song grew out of a Negro spiritual that had the same medley.”

That spiritual, “When the Chariot Comes” is thought to have originated as a coded spiritual referencing the Underground Railroad, and was later sang by workers on the railroad, spreading through Appalachia. 

Jolly continues: “She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain is a song that grew because it traveled. It grew because it traveled the roads – the railroads,” Jolly said. “It was a Negro spiritual that people sang while they worked on the railroads, it was song that they sang while they traveled. It made its way to the mountains and it grew into something else, and now it is the song that we know today.”

Jolly and her husband, saxophonist Will Boyd, were the 2015 MLK Art Award recipients in Knoxville. She is the founder of Ukesphere of Knoxville, a ukulele group for all ages. As an ambassador of jazz, she has traveled to Muroran, Japan as Knoxville’s Sister City representative with Boyd, at various jazz festivals and events. Jolly is the host of Knoxville’s “Jazz Jam with Kelle Jolly,” on WUOT 91.9FM, an hour-long show that celebrates great local, national and international singers of jazz. She is also the founder of the Women in Jazz Jam Festival.

This summer, she is performing at Dollywood. 

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