A new album release, Of Salt and Sand, by Chesapeake recording artist Thelma Peterson celebrates the rich heritage of the Eastern Shore of Virginia where salty water and sandy shoals shape the landscape and support the culture of the waterside communities her family has long called home. The CD comprises 18 original songs, starting with “It Ain’t No Fun [painting the bottom of a boat]” to the prayerful “Shoreland Pines.” In between are reflections of life working the water, stories about the people of her community and episodes from her own childhood fishing, crabbing and just messing around the water’s edge.
One song, “James Alone,” tells the tale of the sole survivor of the Spanish galleon Juno that went down off Assateague Island in 1802. Found strapped to a hatch cover by local villagers, the child was raised as one of their own and became the progenitor to a wide extended family, many of whom still live in Chincoteague. Another song, “I Am at War,” is Peterson’s reaction to the 2010 Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. (It finished second in a USA Today contest that sought out songs about that tragedy; you can find a video of it here: https://youtu.be/0FU2v8JHKMA.)
A waterman’s daughter and granddaughter, Peterson could be the Bay’s answer to Loretta Lynn. Her folkie country-style vocals and acoustic guitar and piano accompaniment make for rocking-chair-on-the-front-porch easy listening, and her lyrics call to mind a world of wonder mixed in with a little sweat and awe.
It’s clear from her lyrics that Peterson has “walked the walk” as they say. She grew up in the Ocean View neighborhood of Norfolk but moved to the Eastern Shore as a young adult and has remained, firmly rooted, to the land where, it turns out, her ancestors likewise took root generations ago. She can trace one side of her family back to Chincoteague in the 1600s and the other side to Northampton County in the 1700s. It’s as if the rigors of pound netting and crabbing run in her blood. Nowadays she makes her home on Jacobus Creek, a tributary of Hungars Creek which ultimately feeds into the Chesapeake Bay.
The CD project, she says, is what got her through the pandemic and a long difficult spell of caring for a cancer-stricken sibling with whom she was able to share her memories and her songs. The isolation gave her the time to record, master and package her music—steps she undertook on her own. Her daughter Erika often joins in with her mom on stage.
Peterson doesn’t always sing for her supper. She’s also an accomplished painter whose landscapes are regularly on exhibit in galleries in Cape Charles and beyond. Probably her best known work focuses on the derelict lighthouses of the Barrier Islands. Some of her vibrant artwork adorns her CD cover.
Much of her artistic enterprise goes to support causes that are near and dear to her heart. A staunch environmentalist, Peterson has earmarked the proceeds of the new CD for the Chesapeake Conservancy (chesapeakeconservancy.org) and the Barrier Island Center in Machipongo (barrierislandscenter.org; she was one of the center’s main instigators and an early board member). At either website clicking on the “free download” links will take you to the artist’s website (thelmapeterson.com) and a request that listeners make a donation. The CD sells for $15 at a few locations around the Lower Shore.