West Virginia Music Hall of Fame’s traveling museum spotlights state

Dec. 18, 2013


Never heard of Bumps Myers?
You can learn all about the Clarksburg-born saxophonist — and about 200 other musicians with connections to the Mountain State — when the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame’s traveling museum makes a stop in Clarksburg from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at Jackson Square as part of the Clarksburg Uptown Holiday Jazz Stroll.
The 26-foot trailer — a mobile extension of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame that was created in early 2005 in Charleston — features a 40-inch interactive touchscreen map that allows visitors to click on any county and see the musicians who hail from that place.
“And if you touch one of the artists, you can see their bio and hear an audio or video clip,” said Michael Lipton, a musician and director of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.
That means visitors can watch Weston native and big band tuba player Buddy Hayes on “The Lawrence Welk Show” both singing and piping out “When Yuba Played the Tuba Down in Cuba” or hear about other Clarksburg-connected entertainers such as opera soprano Phyllis Curtin and game show host and TV personality Peter Marshall.
And if visitors are lucky, the docent will tell them that Michael Jackson sang songs by two West Virginians — Bill Withers, who wrote the soul classic “Lean On Me,” and Larry Groce, the host of the West Virginia Public Radio’s “Mountain Stage,” who had a hit with “Junk Food Junkie” in the 1970s, which the young Jackson performed on a variety program.
“We wanted to showcase the diversity of music that comes from here,” Lipton said. “Most people assume it’s country, old-time and gospel, which is there. But there is a lot of other stuff.”
For instance, in addition to Curtin, a 2008 inductee, Lipton also mentioned another opera soprano, Eleanor Steber, a Wheeling native inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in a ceremony last month at the Culture Center in Charleston. Steber may be the musical state native who is best known internationally, Lipton added.
The first induction ceremony was held in 2007 and honored 10 musicians. That number has been pared down to seven acts or individuals in each induction.
“There is no hard and fast criteria,” Lipton said. “You either have to be born here or have spent a good bit of your life here and had an impact on the state.”
For instance, Virginia-born blues musician Nat Reese, a 2009 inductee, “wasn’t born here, but he spent his whole life here and he chose to stay,” Lipton said.
And then there is polka accordionist Frankie Yankovic, a 2008 inductee who was born in Davis in 1915 but whose family left soon after that.
“His story is a funny one,” Lipton said. “He was born in Tucker County, and his dad was a logger. When Frankie was a week old, his dad got caught moonshining, and they ran him out of town and moved to Cleveland. Because of this Hall of Fame thing, I talked with people who played with him for years and years, and when anybody asked him where he was from, he said, ‘West Virginia.’ And he always came back and played, so I felt it wasn’t gratuitous.”
Many of the state’s “marquee names,” Lipton said, were inducted during the first ceremony in 2007, including country novelty singer Little Jimmy Dickens and Bill Withers, both of Raleigh County; and pianist and Chuck Berry sideman Johnnie Johnson of Fairmont.
“But then you start to get these oddball stories that are kind of what West Virginia is,” Lipton said. “I guess one of the guys who comes to mind is Jack Rollins, a native of Keyser who wrote “Here Comes Peter Cottontail, “Frosty the Snowman” and “Smokey the Bear.”
And the co-writer of one of the world’s most famous TV theme songs? That would be Moundsville-born Frank De Vol, who wrote the music for the opening sequence of “The Brady Bunch,” although it is his instrumental tune for “My Three Sons” that currently can be heard during the launch of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame’s website at www.wvmusichalloffame.com.
The traveling museum has been around for about five years, Lipton said, visiting 356 schools and hosting an estimated 13,000 students so far.
Sherry Hobbs, the Hall of Fame’s education coordinator, takes the museum to different locations, mostly schools, fairs and festivals, but sometimes events such as the Holiday Jazz Stroll, which will feature four musical acts at four different locations starting at 6 p.m. Friday.
Holiday Jazz Stroll acts will include Clarksburg native and saxophonist Karen Drummond Greene at Kelly’s Pub, 221 S. Third St., Clarksburg; Australian bass player and singer Nicki Parrott at The Fifth Floor, 134 S. Third St.; the Jenny Wilson Trio at Starving Artist at the corner of Fourth and Main streets; and Adam Loudin & the Current Jazz Band at Uptown Seafood, 125 Fourth St.
The Harrison County Trolley will begin taking listeners around to each venue at 5:30 p.m. starting from Jackson Square, with The Benedum Brass on board for the duration playing music.
Jackson Square also will be the location for the traveling museum. In addition to the interactive map, the exhibit features a studio where visitors can record a song and take it home on a CD.
“We have a keyboard, and usually they have their own guitar or horn,” Hobbs said. “Usually we know the school ahead of time, and we ask teachers to pick out two or three students out of the class who can sing or play a musical instrument.”
The interactive map usually is popular and informative.
“A lot of the kids are very surprised,” Hobbs said. “A lot of them say they didn’t know we have anybody famous from West Virginia. A lot of students haven’t been outside their own community, and when we bring this in, they are surprised to see the notable people from our state.”
Many of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame activities and programs have been funded through the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation and the West Virginia Humanities Council, Lipton added.
After consecutive induction ceremonies were held in 2007, 2008 and 2009, the events have been moved to every other year. Marshall and filmmaker Morgan Spurlock co-hosted in 2011, and Marshall returned to be inducted in last month’s 2013 ceremony, introduced by Nick Clooney, George’s dad.
When it comes time for future induction ceremonies, Lipton does not foresee running out of candidates for the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.
“That’s the kind of question that gets asked,” he said. “Really, it goes pretty deep. There’s a lot of really interesting people who have made their entire careers in music, and it’s one of the reasons why, for instance, I would enjoy being the director of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame more than Kentucky.”