Miner Musician: Albert Bryce Morgan (born in Coaldale, 1896)

Miner Musician: Albert Bryce Morgan (born in Coaldale, 1896)

Albert Bryce Morgan, nicknamed Abbie, became a well-known regional musician. Although forced to make a living by mining anthracite, his passionate avocation or hobby was music. Except for five formal lessons, he was a self-taught musician who became an orchestra leader, a pianist, an accordionist, as well as a singer and composer of songs, many of them mining songs.

Morgan was born in 1896 in Coaldale, Pennsylvania, the son of David Morgan, a Welsh immigrant, who was a well-known singer of mining ballads himself. After World War I, Albert Morgan organized the Broadway Melody Dance Band. In 1923, it became The Alpine Syncopators with Morgan as the pianist. In 1920, he formed the Coaldale quartet. The words to the quartet’s theme song, “Burn Anthracite” were written by Morgan and sung to the tune “Hallelujah.” The quartet sang many mining songs as well as traditional ballads. The quartet’s repertoire increased as Morgan composed new mining songs and changed the words to older ones. In 1944, Morgan organized an octet called the Old Company Singers. This group, dressed in miner’s clothing, became prominently known in the anthracite region and made many appearances at mining and safety meetings in Pennsylvania. They disbanded in 1954 when the Lehigh Navigation Coal Company ceased operations.

During his life, Morgan continued to write new tunes that reflected the changing conditions in the anthracite region. His best know song was “Union Man.” Folklorist George Korson recorded Morgan singing it in 1946 and included it on his Library of Congress’s recording of anthracite mining songs. Click on mining songs included in this lesson and you can hear Morgan’s voice singing “Union Man.” The lyrics mimic the broken English spoken by immigrant Slovaks who worked in the mines. Writing in this way today would not be considered ethnically sensitive. Nevertheless, the song is an important description of the miners’ disgust over rising prices, strikes, and union officials, issues that loomed large in a miner’s life.

Morgan began his working life as a breaker boy picking slate at age 12. He continued working in the anthracite mines assuming various positions as a fan turner, mule driver, loader, loader boss, and foreman. He left mining for a stint in the Army serving as a Hospital Corpsman in Texas along the border with Mexico in 1917. His experience as an Army Corpsman gave him the background necessary to become a first aid instructor in the mines. He took courses sponsored by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company to become a mine safety engineer, a position he held until he retired. Morgan died in 1963.

Sources of biographical information are from copies of newspaper (some unidentified) clippings and email communications from Albert E. Morgan housed in HSP Department of Education and Interpretation files.

1. “If Miners Meet It’s a Songfest.” 29 May 1944.

2. “Local Men Assume New Duties January 1.” 30 December 1948.

3. “Old Quartet Kept Alive Famous Ballads of Mines.” Carbon County Panorama. 13 January 1957.

4. “A.B. (Abby) Morgan.” Obituary. 27 August 1963.