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West Virginia Music Hall of Fame To Induct First Ever Honorees

Inaugural Class Of Nominees A Diverse Group 

by Derek Halsey

On November 16th, 2007, the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame will induct its first ever class of honorees. Formed in 2005, the Hall of Fame has been building up to these inaugural ceremonies. Five living and five deceased musicians will be honored. These West Virginia-connected artists will be entered into posterity at the awards show and gala to be held at the Cultural Center Theater in Charleston. All five of the living inductees will attend the festivities.

To start off the evening, West Virginia governor Joe Manchin III will host a reception at the Governor’s Mansion for the inductees, presenters, sponsors, and premium ticket holders before the gala. Hosting the awards show will be two accomplished West Virginia natives; TV/ movie actress and singer, Ann Magnuson, and Oscar nominated (Super Size Me) movie producer and director, Morgan Spurlock.

The five living Hall of Fame inductees who will accept their awards in person include soul music legend Bill Withers, the Pulitzer Prize and Grammy-winning composer George Crumb, Country Music Hall of Famer and Grand Ole Opry star Little Jimmy Dickens, renowned Appalachian singer and songwriter Hazel Dickens, and the hit songwriter and playwright Billy Edd Wheeler.

The nominees to be honored in the deceased category include pianist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Johnnie Johnson, jazz saxophonist Leon “Chu” Berry, legendary fiddler Clark Kessinger, pioneering country music singer Molly O'Day, and singer, songwriter, and fiddle great Blind Alfred Reed.

The process started earlier this year when the names of 94 musicians were offered up for nomination. That list was pared down to 24 artists who made up the final ballot. The ballot was separated into two categories, with 12 names appearing in the ‘living’ category and 12 names listed in the ‘deceased’ category. 

The final ballot was decided upon by a committee of 37 musicians, writers, media professionals, and historians, all selected to provide balance and depth of experience. Input from the public was also considered. The winners were announced at a press conference in Charleston on August 6th hosted by Hall of Fame founder Michael Lipton, 2007 Grammy winner and West Virginia native Tim O'Brien, Cabinet Secretary for the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts Kay Goodwin,

Commissioner of West Virginia Culture and History Randall Reid-Smith, and the editor of Goldenseal Magazine John Lilly.

General admission tickets for the event are $35, and Premium tickets are also available for $475 a pair or $250 each. Premium ticket holders receive preferred seating and an invitation to the Governor's Reception. To order premium tickets call 304-342-4412 or email Michael Lipton at mlipton@gmail.com. The West Virginia Music Hall of Fame is a non-profit corporation.

More information can be found at www.wvmusichalloffame.com.  

Here is more information about the ten honorees;
Bill Withers – Grew up in Slab Fork, Raleigh County, West Virginia. Bill Withers is a legendary R & B star whose music has stood the test of time. He produced a string of soul music hits in the 1970’s that sold millions of copies and are still regularly played over the airwaves today. Wither’s hit songs are also sampled on a regular basis three decades later. With hit songs such as “Lean On Me,” “Use Me.” and “Just The Two Of Us,” the impact that Withers’ music has had on the American experience is apparent. Over the years, his songs have been recorded by many artists including Mick Jagger, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, Liza Minnelli, Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, Linda Ronstadt, Joe Cocker, Crystal Gale, Nancy Wilson, Carmen McCrae, and Johnny Mathis.

George Crumb – Grew up in Charleston, Kanawha County, West Virginia. Crumb is a classical composer whose music is performed literally around the globe. He won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1968 for his composition, “Echoes of Time and the River,” which draws from his Kanawha Valley heritage. He also won a Grammy Award in 2001 for Best Contemporary Composition for his work called “Star-Child.” Crumb is recognized the world over as one of the 20th Century's most unique voices in concert music. A native of Charleston, West Virginia, Crumb studied at various schools in the Midwest as well as the Berlin Hochschule as a Fulbright Scholar. He eventually joined the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania where he composed and taught music for three decades until his retirement.

Hazel Dickens – Grew up in Montcalm, Mercer County, West Virginia and later moved to Washington DC. Hazel Dickens is a singer and songwriter whose musical stories about West Virginia, the coal miners of the Appalachian region, and about workers everywhere who toil and live in substandard conditions, have made her a legend. The tales she has written about her three brothers who suffered from black lung, and others like them, are still sung today because they seem to apply to somebody somewhere. She also wrote and recorded many songs about the feminist struggles of the last century. In the 1960’s she toured with her band, the Greenbriar Boys. Dickens has recorded many albums over the years, including projects with Mike Seeger and Alice Gerrard. She also has recorded a set of solo albums for Rounder Records. In 2001 Dickens was awarded a prestigious National Endowment of the Arts Heritage Fellowship in the nation’s capitol.

Little Jimmy Dickens – Grew up in Bolt, Raleigh County, West Virginia. Little Jimmy Dickens has been in the music business for over 50 years. He is in the Country Music Hall of Fame and has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1949. While many of his contemporaries have died in the past years and months, Dickens still performs and hosts the Grand Ole Opry on a regular basis. He had country music hits in four different decades, the 1940's, 50's, 60's, and 70's, including "Out Behind The Barn," "Take An Old Cold Tater and Wait," "Sleepin' At The Foot Of The Bed," and "May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose." 

Billy Edd Wheeler – Grew up Whitesville, Boone County, West Virginia. Wheeler is a performer and songwriter who wrote many popular hit records for Johnny Cash and many others including songs such as "Jackson," "Coward of the County," "Little Brown Shack Out Back," and a hit for Elvis Presley called "It's Midnight." His songs have been recorded by over 150 artists. He has been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Foundation Hall of Fame. This former Yale drama student has also written many humor and children’s books, and has authored many plays and outdoor dramas that are currently performed around the country. His plays include the long-running Hatfields & McCoys, which is produced in Beckley, West Virginia, Young Abe Lincoln, produced in Lincoln City, Indiana, and his most recent work, Johnny Appleseed, which is performed in Mansfield, Ohio.

Leon “Chu” Berry – 1910-1941 • Born in Wheeling, Ohio County, West Virginia.
Berry attended the West Virginia Colored Institute at West Virginia State University as a youngster before traveling to New York City to find work as a musician. He was a top tenor sax player of the 1930’s jazz scene in the Big Apple, and was a contemporary of other sax greats such as Coleman Hawkins (his main influence), Lester Young, and Ben Webster. Berry might have become a pivotal force if he had not died in an auto accident in 1941 when he was in his early 30’s. Even so, he broke a lot of ground playing with greats such as Benny Carter, Cab Calloway, Fletcher Henderson, and Count Basie.

Johnnie Johnson – 1924-2005 • Born in Fairmont, Marion County, West Virginia.
Johnson was the musician who virtually invented rock and roll piano as a member of Chuck Berry’s band. History will show, however, that it was Johnson who first hired Berry in 1953, and not the other way around.  He also co-wrote many of Berry’s rock standards. In 1987, Johnson was featured in a documentary movie called Chuck Berry: Hail, Hail Rock and Roll where Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards put together an all-star band to back up Berry on his 60th birthday. Richards said this about Johnson, “You can tell how much Johnnie's blues stylings had to do with the music for Chuck's tunes by the fact that a lot of those characteristic Chuck Berry guitar riffs and compositions are in keys familiar to Johnnie and other pianists but seldom used by guitarists.” Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 when they opened up a category for sidemen.

Clark Kessinger – 1896-1975 – Born in in Kanawha County, West Virginia. When the subject of legendary West Virginia fiddlers comes up, the name Clark Kessinger will surely enter the conversation. Kessinger’s recordings are more than top-notch and historic, they are influential. Kessinger recorded over 70 sides in the 1920’s as a member of the Kessinger Brothers. He was re-discovered and lured back to performing by the Folk boom of the 1960’s and his appearances on the Grand Ole Opry were enthusiastically received. His recordings can be found at Rounder Records, County Sales, and many Smithsonian Institute Folkways projects.

Mollie O’Day – 1923-1987 • Born in Pike County, Kentucky and lived in Huntington, Cabell County, West Virginia from 1940 to 1987. A performer who broke a lot of ground for female artists back in the day, O'Day was considered the premier female country and western singer of the 1940’s. She performed often on the Grand Ole Opry and collaborated on many songs with a young Hank Williams in the 1940’s including “Tramp On The Street.” Between 1946 and 1951, Molly O’ Day and the Cumberland Mountain Folks, which included her husband Lynn Davis, recorded thirty-six sides for Columbia Records. Art Satherly, the legendary producer for the recording company, called her “the greatest female country singer ever.” Later in life, Molly suffered a nervous breakdown, and for the following years she and Lynn would perform gospel music around the state of West Virginia and the region, including on their popular gospel radio show that was broadcast from their home in Huntington. She was also an accomplished banjo player who once beat Earl Scruggs in a banjo contest in London, Kentucky.

Blind Alfred Reed – 1880-1956 –Born in Floyd, Virginia, and lived most of his life in Princeton, Mercer County, West Virginia. Fiddler Blind Alfred Reed was a unique and accomplished musician and songwriter who was first ‘discovered’ by Ralph Peer in the 1920’s on Peer’s legendary trip to Bristol, Tennessee where he also discovered the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. Ultimately, Reed was one of the first West Virginians ever to be recorded, which then spread his authentic Appalachian music around the world. His music has stood the test of time, as various musicians have revived it over the years. Ry Cooder recorded Reed’s work in the 1970’s, and in 2006 Bruce Springsteen recorded and played Reed’s "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live" on his The Seeger Sessions album and subsequent tour.


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