We never know when something we do or say will have a profound effect on another person’s life.
Such was the case with Voda Brim.
Miss Voda was born in 1908 to Jay and Alice Cook Gammons on their Westfield farm. She married Romney Brim who served as minister of the Mount Airy Church of God for many years. When she passed away in 2005, after nearly 80 years of marriage and with 78 living descendants, she was considered by many to be a pillar of the community.
I feel certain that she made a great deal of difference in the lives of a great many people but the story that is told of this lady in the museum dates from a Sunday morning from the mid-1900s. Young Yvonne Vaughn was singing her Daddy’s favorite hymn, “Mansion Over The Hilltop” and Miss Voda was sitting right behind her.
“Well, in the middle of the song, Miss Voda shouted and scared me half to death but I kept singing,” Yvonne recalled in a 2003 interview. “I went home that day after church and said, ‘Daddy! Daddy! Voda Brim shouted when I sang and she didn’t shout when anybody else sang.’ So, as I look back, I have to wonder if that shout didn’t make me feel anointed or something and nurture that dream to become a singer.”
It would take some time but little Yvonne, or Donna Fargo as she is widely known, reached her dream in a big way when, in 1969 the Academy of Country Music named her the Top New Female Vocalist and followed that in 1972 by awarding her Song of the Year, Single of the Year, and Album of the Year for “The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA” and naming her Top Female Vocalist.
That album and cross-over single also earned her accolades for the Single of the Year from the Country Music Association, Top All-Around Female Vocalist-Songwriter from Billboard Awards and Best Female Country Vocal Performance from the Grammys.
It was an unlikely career for a shy girl from Slate Mountain just east of Mount Airy. The youngest of four children born to Ramey and Ada (Hendricks) Vaughn, she had older siblings who pushed her to shine — especially her brother Gayle.
Shy she may have been but she was named the girl with the “Most School Spirit” and the “Most Popular Girl” by her senior classmates at Mount Airy High School. She was also the president of her class, the lead of the cheerleading squad, a member of the glee club, Miss Mount Airy High School her sophomore year and homecoming queen her junior year.
She met her future husband, Stan Silver, while visiting her brother in California. Silver was in the music industry, taught her to play guitar and coached her on songwriting and became another force of encouragement in her career. He’s been her only manager.
From 1967 to 1987 she released 15 original albums and dozens of singles with 18 charting in the top 10 and seven hitting #1. In 1998 she was inducted into the North American Country Music Association’s International Hall of Fame.
Until Jennifer Nettles’ hit “Stay” in 2009, Donna remained the only female artist to have a Song of the Year from the ACM that she had both written and recorded.
She toured for the USO, performed at the famed Carnegie Hall, and had her own variety television show. She was discussed at the same level as recording greats Lynne Anderson, Roy Clark, Dolly Parton, and Loretta Lynn.
In 1978, Donna was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, causing a significant cut back on her appearances but she swore it wouldn’t stop her and it hasn’t as six of her albums were released post-diagnosis. In more recent years she’s turned her writing skills to other genres, as author of several books of inspirational poetry and prose and a successful line of greeting cards.
Miss Donna, Mount Airy’s favored daughter, has lived in Nashville for most of her married life but has come back to visit family and friends, open the Donna Fargo Highway in 2015, serve as the Grand Marshall of the town’s Christmas parade, and, in 2010, to open the official Donna Fargo Exhibit here at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.
Her birthday was Nov. 10 and while we all know that life brings heartache as well as happiness, we all hope Miss Donna had the best possible day! Thanks for all the joy and encouragement you’ve given us and many happy returns.