Women's History Showcase - Doris Troutman Plenn

Last Updated 3/4/2024In History

by Steve Hill

Author, songwriter, and Iredell County native Doris Troutman Plenn was born in 1909. Her version of the song How Can I Keep from Singing, co-written with 1950s with her friend, NY folksinger Pete Seeger, has been recorded by over 25 international artists, including Bruce Springsteen, Judy Collins, and Enya. It became a popular protest song at the 1960s folk music festivals.

Actor Martin Sheen performed the song during his radio singing debut on A Prairie Home Companion in September 2007, but the most popular recording of the song came in 1991 when Irish vocalist, Enya, recorded it using Plenn’s unique third verse. Enya and her recording company were sued for copyright infringement, but a court found that Plenn’s interest was solely in preserving the song rather than making a profit from it. Enya was allowed to use the song without paying royalties.

Doris was first married to Emjo Basshe, a Lithuanian-born Jewish playwright of Spanish ancestry and theater director who co-founded New York City's New Playwrights Theatre in 1926. In 1931 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was a founding member, in 1935, of the League of American Writers. When he died in 1939, Doris moved back to Troutman.

In 1954 after marrying author Abel Plenn, she published The Green Song. During the 50s she commuted between homes in Puerto Rico, NY, and Troutman and always attended the Troutman Family Reunion. She published The Violet Tree in 1962.

Doris’ maternal grandfather was famous botanist and herbalist Mordecai E. Hyams, who procured medicinal roots, bark, and herbs for the Confederate Army during the Civil War. After the war, he moved to Statesville, a major herb trade center, and became manager and botanist for the Wallace Brothers Herbarium, where he enlarged the number of varieties in which it carried from 75 to 300. By 1890 it was processing over 2,300 varieties. Hyams was the author of "The Crude Drug Industry in the South,” and arranged exhibitions of botanical specimens sent by Wallace Brothers to the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876 and the Paris Exposition of 1878.

Doris Troutman Plenn died in 1991. She and Able are buried in the Troutman Family Cemetery.

Thank you to Steve Hill with the Statesville Historical Collection for gathering and writing this information and his unending willingness to share his knowledge of our City.
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