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Southwest Virginia’s Early Music Stars on Exhibit at Ferrum College

For immediate release:
 Contact: Roddy Moore
May 9, 2002

 (540) 365-4416/

Henry Whitter, of Fries.  First to record old-time music in Southwest Virginia.

     Singers and musicians from Southwest Virginia made some of the first country, blues, and gospel records in America, and their artistry helped shape the Golden Age of 78 r.p.m. records. The careers of these recording pioneers are showcased in a new exhibit at Ferrum College’s Blue Ridge Institute & Museum, the State Center for Blue Ridge Folklore. “Hometown Stars: Southwest Virginia’s Recording Legacy, 1923-1943” opens May 10, 2002, in the Institute’s Jessie Ball duPont Gallery. Admission is free.

     “Hometown Stars” explores the careers of dozens of artists from the Virginia highlands. It features photographs, posters, sheet music, musical instruments, and other memorabilia. “It wasn’t until the 1920s that record companies realized there was a market for rural music. Once they did, they used lots of Southwest Virginia talent to create their product.” said Roddy Moore, director of the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum.

     Grayson County textile worker Henry Whitter began the region’s recording legacy by traveling to New York in 1923 to convince the General Phonograph Corporation to record him. By the early 1940s Southwest Virginians had cut over 1,200 love songs, sentimental songs, ballads, hymns, blues numbers, novelty songs, and string band tunes. Southwest Virginia proved to be a rich source of artists and material for the nation’s young recording industry, and few other parts of the country rivaled such a volume of commercially recorded folk-based music in the pre-World War Two era.

     Most of these musicians never achieved any great degree of fame. They often recorded just a few selections, and despite some local notoriety, they continued with average working class lives. A few Southwest Virginians, however, did build larger careers, and some, such as the Carter Family, became icons of rural music.

     “Hometown Stars” is funded by a grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities & Public Policy. A gallery guide with essays is scheduled for publication this summer, and the annual Blue Ridge Folklife Festival (October 26, 2002) will feature a concert/workshop, sponsored by the Virginia Commission for the Arts, on early recording artists and their children.

     “Hometown Stars” runs through March, 2003. Located on the campus of Ferrum College, the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum is open Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., year-round; and Sundays, 1 to 4:30 p.m., mid-May through mid-August. For more information call 540-365-4416 or visit ###


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