Richmond Folk Festival Showcases
Virginia’s National Heritage Award Winners at 2012 Event
September 3, 2012 (Richmond, VA) – This year’s Richmond Times-Dispatch Virginia Folklife Stage celebrates Virginia’s winners of the National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor the US government can bestow upon a traditional artist. The NEA National Heritage Fellowship program has recognized the lifetime achievement and the artistic excellence of more than 300 artists since 1982. The fellowship is awarded annually to about 10 recipients, from a wide range of traditional art forms (crafts, music, dance, and work traditions). Competition for this honor is fierce—each year a panel of experts reads through more than 300 nominations with the nearly impossible task of recommending just a small handful of deserving artists. Virginia boasts an astonishing number of winners, reflecting the vibrancy of traditional art forms in the Commonwealth. This year’s Virginia Folklife Stage will feature performances by all of Virginia’s living National Heritage Fellowship recipients, as well as tribute performances for those who have passed on.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch/Virginia Folklife Stage is produced by the Virginia Folklife Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. The Folklife Program is the state center for the documentation, presentation, and celebration of the Commonwealth's rich cultural traditions. “We are so blessed to have had so many or Virginia’s traditional artists recognized with this prestigious honor,” said Jon Lohman, Director of the Virginia Folklife Program, “they are a gift not only to the Commonwealth but to the entire nation.”
Performers on the Folklife Stage will include:
Ralph Stanley – Appalachian Banjo Player/Singer
1984 winner of National Heritage Fellowship
Raised in the Clinch Mountain area of southwestern Virginia, Ralph Stanley and his older brother, Carter, are two of the founding fathers of bluegrass music. They learned ballad singing and banjo frailing from their mother. This style—narrative songs of the oldest English language tradition to nineteenth century hymns sung a cappella—still guides Ralph Stanley’s performances today. In 1946 Ralph and Carter formed the legendary Stanley Brothers duo, who along with the Clinch Mountain Boys, became one of the most popular brother acts in Country Music history. They traveled together for 20 years recording mournful mountain songs and bluegrass hits. After Carter Stanley died in 1966, Ralph continued on his own and is now into his sixth decade of performing. Known for his sharp, tenor voice and banjo picking, he has performed on more than 170 recordings. In 2001, at the age of 75, Ralph received his first Grammy award for his chilling “O Death” on the O Brother, Where Art Thou film soundtrack. He is considered by many to be the epitome of "mountain soul."
Wayne Henderson – Luthier, Guitar Player
1995 winner of National Heritage Fellowship
Wayne Henderson of tiny Rugby, Virginia, built his first guitar using traced patterns and the wood from the bottom of a dresser drawer. More than four hundred guitars later, Henderson is considered one of the most extraordinary instrument makers in the world. He learned much of what he knows from the legendary Albert Hash, an instrument maker and old-time musician from Southwest Virginia. Henderson is renowned not only for his instrument-making abilities but also as a master guitarist. He has performed throughout the United States and the world, has taken first place thirteen times in the Galax Fiddlers’ Convention guitar competition, and is honored annually by friends and neighbors at the Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition, held yearly in Grayson County, Virginia. Along with his gifts as a maker and player of guitars, Wayne is a gifted storyteller, and his various “tales from Rugby” have delighted audiences for decades.
Jesse McReynolds – Bluegrass Musician
1997 winner of National Heritage Fellowship with brother Jim McReynolds
Jesse McReynolds, born in Coeburn, Virginia in 1929, is renowned for his innovative cross-picking and split-string styles of mandolin playing and continues to be a major creative force in bluegrass. Jesse, along with his late brother, Jim McReynolds, formed the pioneering bluegrass band Jim and Jesse shortly after World War II. In the early 1950s, Jesse developed a mandolin cross-picking technique that added a syncopated effect similar to that of Scruggs-style banjo playing. It was widely imitated by his peers. In 1952, the brothers signed a contract with Capitol Records and changed the name of their act to Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys. Their big break came in 1964, when they were invited to join the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. This led to a lifelong career with the Opry. They performed widely in the United States and abroad. Jim McReynolds died in 2002, but Jesse continues performing tirelessly. "We were just carrying on the tradition that our grandfather started when he recorded on the Bristol Sessions," Jesse McReynolds said. "We're still doing it after 50 years, and I guess that made an impression on someone somewhere."
Joe Wilson – Folklorist, Advocate, and Presenter
2001 winner of National Heritage Fellowship
While he has been a country record producer, a door-to-door salesman, a civil rights reporter, and a Madison Avenue consultant, Joe Wilson is most well-known for his work from 1976 to 2010 as the Executive Director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts, the oldest organization in the nation devoted to the presentation of folk arts. From this position, he had a profound influence on folk and traditional arts programming in this country. His mark can be also be seen in the shaping of national institutions such as the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, the National Park Service, the Arts America program of the United States Information Agency (now in the Department of State), the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. While it may sound as though his contribution has been merely in the arena of cultural policy, his more significant accomplishments can be measured by the many ways in which he has put his passion and commitment to traditional artists into practice. He has given programming direction to nearly 40 folk festivals, organized 21 national tours by musicians, dancers, and storytellers, and produced 7 international tours and 53 sound recordings. His resume wryly closes with the statement, "Joe Wilson was reared in the Blue Ridge Mountains at Trade, Tennessee's easternmost and oldest community. He has no graduate degrees and is not listed in the Who's Who of anywhere." In spite of that, his work and his inspiring commitment to folk artists is quietly visible everywhere.
Flory Jagoda – Sephardic Musician and Composer
2002 winner of National Heritage Fellowship
Flory Jagoda was born in 1925 in Sarajevo, Bosnia, a member of the Altarac family, the most prominent musicians in the city’s Sephardic Jewish community. When the Sephardic Jews were forced into exile from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century, many settled in other Mediterranean countries but preserved their native language, called Ladino. Through her “nona,” or grandmother, Jagoda learned songs that had been passed down in her family for generations. She also became familiar with the region's Balkan cultural traditions. Jagoda escaped the destruction of Sarajevo's Jewish community and eventually came to the United States after World War II. She has been recognized as a critically important carrier of a unique musical heritage and also as a composer and arranger of new Sephardic songs. In addition to teaching that tradition to her children, she has taught many students who now perform Ladino music. Today, she tours widely and her music is circulated through recordings and in The Flory Jagoda Songbook. She is beloved for her willingness to perform at religious ceremonies, family celebrations, and cultural events. Her performances are marked by musical beauty but also by her commitment to find meaning through affirmation of community in her personal experience. Her composition “Ochos Kandalikas,” (Eight Candles) has become an international anthem of Hanukkah.
Moges Seyoum – Ethiopian Liturgical Musician/Scholar
2008 winner of National Heritage Fellowship
The son of an accomplished church musician, Moges Seyoum began his musical education in Ethiopia at the age of eight. He soon became an accomplished singer and a master in the various genres of Ethiopian Orthodox Christian chant, sacred dance, and associated instrumental practices, some of the oldest Christian practices in the world. In 1966, at an unusually young age, he received the title of qanhgeta or "the leader of the right-hand side," meaning the musician who leads the right side of the two choirs that alternate as they sing. By the time he arrived in the United States in 1982, he could perform from memory the complete Ethiopian Psalter, as well as other liturgical books such as the Ethiopian Hymnary. In 2006, he recorded and published a collection of six CDs containing the most complicated musical sections for the annual liturgy. Seyoum is also an expert on the Ethiopian Christian notational system, the only indigenous system of music writing in Africa, which has 600 signs. He is viewed as the master of an elaborate style of movement of the prayer staff (takla), for which he is known as the only practitioner living in the United States. Today, he leads the performance of the musical liturgy at the Debre Selam Kidist Mariam Church in Washington DC at services that often number more than 2,000 people.
Frank Newsome – Old Regular Baptist Singer
2011 winner of National Heritage Fellowship
An elder in the Old Regular Baptist Church, Frank Newsome is a master practitioner of lined-out hymn singing, one of the deepest and oldest musical traditions of Virginia. Newsome was born in 1942 in Pike County, Kentucky, where his father worked as a coal miner. One of 22 children, Newsome began attending Old Regular Baptist church services as a child with his mother. He settled in Virginia about the age of 20 and worked in the coal mines. After more than 17 years, Newsome contracted black lung disease and left the mines but took up new responsibilities at his church, using his vocal prowess to lead his congregation as a preacher and in the singing of hymns. He preaches at the Little David Old Regular Baptist Church in Buchanan County, Virginia. A small, tightly-knit denomination located primarily in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky and deep Southwest Virginia, Old Regular Baptists maintain the tradition of permitting no musical accompaniment in their services. Instead, the congregation sings a cappella with a preacher or elder singing a line of a hymn and the congregation repeating the same line in a mournful blend of voices. Due to the small geographic area where Old Regular Baptist churches remain, this musical genre is not well known outside the region. The Virginia Folklife Program produced an album of Newsome singing called Gone Away with A Friend, one of the few times that a leader of this singing style has ever been recorded. Frequent Little David Church attendee, bluegrass legend, and National Heritage Fellow Ralph Stanley has helped to draw attention to this art form by always having Newsome sing a hymn to open his annual Hills of Home music festival.
The Paschall Brothers – Tidewater A Cappella Gospel
2012 winner of National Heritage Fellowship
The Paschall Brothers stand firmly in the great tradition of unaccompanied religious singing in the Tidewater region of Virginia. Though scarcely a handful of African American a cappella quartets sing in Virginia today, black four-part harmony groups were singing in Virginia at least as early as the mid-1800s, and the Tidewater region alone produced more than two hundred such groups in the century following the Civil War. The “modern” quartets were born in the late 1920s and early 1930s with the emergence of groups like the Heavenly Gospel Singers, the Blevins Quartet, and most notably, the Golden Gate Quartet of Norfolk. Norfolk quickly became known as the “home of the quartet.” The Paschall Brothers are the current torch-bearers of this traditional singing style. It takes only a few opening notes for the artistry of the Paschalls to claim the listener’s ear. The late Reverend Frank Paschall Sr. originally formed the ensemble in 1981 with his five sons: Frank Jr., Reverend Tarrence, Wendell, Dwight, and William. Reverend Paschall Sr. passed away in 1999, but his sons have carried on his legacy. The Paschalls perform frequently at local area churches and festivals in the Tidewater area, and have performed at several nationally known festivals, including the National Folk Festival, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and the Roots of American Music Festival at Lincoln Center.
Tribute to John Jackson – African American Songster/Guitarist (Deceased)
Fairfax Station, VA
1986 winner of National Heritage Fellowship
John Jackson was born February 25, 1924, in Rappahannock County, Virginia. His father was a tenant farmer on what had been an old plantation prior to the Civil War. Jackson and his 13 brothers and sisters grew up helping out with the farming. At age four, John began to play guitar on his father's $4.98 flat-top instrument, teaching himself by practicing and listening to the music of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, and Blind Boy Fuller. In addition, he listened to the recordings of Jimmie Rodgers and Ernest Tubb, as well as a wide range of gospel, ragtime, and country hymns. John was a master and innovator of the Piedmont style blues. The Piedmont blues, one of the genre’s oldest styles, originated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and southward. It is known for its distinctive guitar finger-picking method, where the thumb plays the rhythmic bass-line and one or two fingers pluck out the melody of the song. This technique creates an unusually rich feel and makes the single guitar sound as though there is more than one instrument playing. After moving to Fairfax, Jackson worked as a butler, chauffeur, philosopher, humanitarian, Civil War Historian, and gravedigger. Folklorist Charles Perdue heard John sing in Rappahannock gas station, and soon introduced him to audiences at folk festivals throughout the country. Over the years, Jackson toured widely across the United States and abroad, making numerous recordings, playing his distinctive Piedmont guitar blues, and also performing on the banjo. He was one of the few African American musicians to continue to play the blues on the banjo, which he learned growing up in the rural Piedmont region, though he never owned his own instrument until later in life. John Jackson died in 2002.
John Jackson will be remembered with a special performance
by Jeffrey Scott
Jeffrey Scott is the nephew of John Jackson, and like his uncle, a master in the Piedmont blues style, having performed at such events as the National Folk Festival, the San Francisco Blues Festival, and the DC Folk Festival. Like his uncle John, he is also a blues man who wears many hats. A great story teller in the tradition of John, Jeffrey Scott often tells tales of his life on a cattle farm in Culpeper, Virginia, where he raises Texas Longhorns. He was in law enforcement for 19 years, and has been working in a funeral home since he was 15. Reflecting on his time spent working as a mortician and his Uncle John’s work as gravedigger, Jeffrey mused: “I dressed them up, and Uncle John covered them up.”
Tribute to John Cephas – Piedmont Blues Guitarist/Singer (Deceased)
1989 winner of National Heritage Fellowship
John Cephas was born July 4, 1930, in the Foggy Bottom area of Washington DC. His father was a Baptist minister, and he started singing in church. Cephas's father owned a guitar, and the boy began to play this instrument on the sly. He polished his piedmont-style playing with help from his cousin, David Talliaferro. John Cephas describes this finger-picking style as "alternating thumb and finger-picking where I keep a constant bass line going with my thumb. I pick out the melody or the words I'm singing with my fingers on the treble strings at the same time. It's almost like the guitar is talking, mimicking your feelings or the words to the songs and that steady accompanying bass gives it a jumping rhythm, a loping sound." Cephas began playing publicly at local house parties and dances in Caroline County, Virginia. It was at a birthday party in the 1970s that Big Chief Ellis, a barrelhouse piano player, heard Cephas and invited Cephas to play with him professionally. One of the players in the band was Phil Wiggins, a harmonica player. After the death of Big Chief Ellis, John Cephas and Phil Wiggins continued to play together touring Europe, Africa, Asia, South and Central America, and the Soviet Union. In 1986 they won the W.C. Handy Award for the Best Traditional Album of the Year and were also named the Blues Entertainers of the Year. John Cephas died in 2009.
John Cephas will be remembered with a special performance by his long-time musical partner Phil Wiggins, Jamal Millner, and John’s prized students from Augusta Heritage Center: Willie Cisin, and Valerie and Ben Turner
Takoma Park, MD
Phil Wiggins was born in Washington DC in 1954. He began his musical career with some of Washington's leading blues artists, including Archie Edwards and John Jackson, and attributes his harmonica style to his years accompanying slide guitarist and gospel singer, Flora Molton. His unique harmonica style developed from listening to piano and horn players, as well as the music of Sonny Terry, Sonny Boy Williamson I, Little Walter, Big Walter Horton, and Junior Wells. Phil also apprenticed with Mother Scott, a contemporary of legendary singer Bessie Smith. Of course, Phil will always be linked with Piedmont Guitar master John Cephas. Their duo “Cephas and Wiggins” delighted audiences all over the world, and was considered one of the premiere traditional blues acts of their era. Besides being a renowned harmonica player, Wiggins is also a gifted songwriter and singer whose material helped define the Cephas and Wiggins sound. Since John’s passing, Phil has carried on his artistry with such artists as Corey Harris, John Dee Holman and the late Nat Reese.
Jamal Millner is a guitar player from West Virginia who has performed with noted scholars and musicians Nat Reese, Martin Williams, Roland Wiggins, Walter Ross, John D'earth, Taj Mahal, R.L. Burnside, Vusi Mahlasela, Ali Farka Toure', Dave Matthews Band, John Jackson, Nicholas Payton, Corey Harris, and countless others on stage and in the studio. Now residing in Charlottesville, Virginia, Millner is also an accomplished producer, composer, and audio engineer with credits on numerous critically acclaimed works in various genres and forms of media.
Tribute to Janette Carter – Country Musician/Advocate (Deceased)
2005 winner of National Heritage Fellowship
Janette Carter spent a lifetime supporting and promoting traditional music of the Appalachian region. Her parents A.P. and Sara and aunt Maybelle made up the Carter Family, known as the "First Family of Country Music." In the waning years of A.P. Carter's life, Janette promised her father that she would carry on his work. At the time, she was a cook in the local elementary school, but she began hosting informal music programs in the store that her father operated in southwestern Virginia, in an area known as Poor Valley. In 1976, she and community members built an 880-seat amphitheater, the Carter Family Fold, beside the store. Seats were salvaged from old school buses and benches were made with railroad ties. A regular series of concerts has been offered there ever since. Today the Carter Family Fold attracts more than 50,000 visitors a year to this family-run monument to early country music. The Fold is not just a concert hall; on most evenings it is jammed with local families, and the dance floor is filled with young and old who are clogging, buckdancing, and waltzing to the acoustic music. Janette, a traditionalist at heart, allowed only the late Johnny Cash, June Carter's husband, to break her rule and to be the first and one of only two (along with Marty Stuart) to perform there with electric instruments. Janette died in 2006.
Janette Carter will be honored with a special performance
by her son Dale Jett
Hello Stranger, featuring Dale Jett
Dale Jett is a native of Scott County, in deep Southwest Virginia. The son of Janette Carter and the grandson of A. P. and Sara Carter of the legendary Carter Family, his roots have been steeped within the heart of his family's musical heritage. Dale began playing guitar in his late teens when Elizabeth Cotten taught him his first chords in her unique style—left handed, upside down. Later, he added his own style of autoharp playing to his repertoire. His fine singing is powerful and compelling, yet at the same time delicate and haunting. Like his grandfather, Dale is also a collector of songs, and his performances encompass a unique combination of traditional songs and Carter Family standards as well as other material that extends beyond conventional country. Hello Stranger features Dale, his wife Teresa Jett on bass, and Oscar Harris on guitar, mandolin, and autoharp. Together they have played throughout the United States, including at the Grand Ole Opry.
Tribute to Mike Seeger – Musician, Cultural Scholar, and Advocate (Deceased)
2009 winner of National Heritage Fellowship
Mike Seeger devoted his life to singing, playing, and documenting what he called “Music from True Vine”—the home music made by American southerners before the media age. As he described it: “Music from True Vine grows out of hundreds of years of British traditions that blended in our country with equally ancient African traditions to produce songs and sounds unique to the United States. For the peoples of the rural South, their great variety of music, song, and story provided their Shakespeare, their dance music, their news, and the fabric of their daily lives.” Mike learned songs from his parents at a young age and began playing instruments in his late teens, learning first from his close friend Elizabeth Cotten, and later seeking out other master stylists like guitarist Maybelle Carter, banjoists Dock Boggs, and autoharpist Kilby Snow. Eventually Mike's love for traditional music led him to produce documentaries—more than 25 field recordings and videos—and to organize countless tours and concerts featuring traditional musicians and dancers. As a founding member of the pioneering traditional music group, the New Lost City Ramblers, Mike played an integral role in helping to revive interest in a variety of traditional music, now played by thousands of young musicians across the country. Mike recorded more than 40 albums, both solo and with others. He received six Grammy nominations and was a master artist in the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program. He died in 2009.
Mike will be remembered with a special performance by ballad singers Ginny Hawker and Tracy Schwarz
Ginny Hawker and Tracy Schwarz
Ginny Hawker is a native of Halifax County, Virginia where she grew up in a large extended family of singers and musicians. Ginny's father, Ben Hawker, was her mentor growing up. Together, they taught the beautiful old singing of his Primitive Baptist Church for ten years at the Augusta Heritage Workshops in Elkins, West Virginia. Tracy grew up in New Jersey and New England where his strongest memories are of days spent on the neighbors' farm in southern Vermont. Despite his northeastern roots, Tracy developed a strong passion for Old Time music, and eventually joined Mike Seeger in the seminal group the New Lost City Ramblers. Ginny and Tracy met in 1988 when both were on staff at the Ashokan Fiddle and Dance Camp near Woodstock, New York. They soon discovered that, despite their differing childhoods, they shared a deep understanding of and love for the music of the rural south. Although they have been singing together only 16 years, their strong, soul-stirring singing makes you feel their devotion to the place from which their music springs.
The Richmond Folk Festival is one of Virginia’s largest events, drawing visitors from all over the country to downtown Richmond’s historic riverfront. The Festival is a FREE three-day event that got its start as the National Folk Festival held in Richmond from 2005-2007. In the tradition of the National, the Richmond Folk Festival features more than 20 performers and performing groups, on seven stages with continuous music and dance performances, along with a Virginia Folklife Area, featuring ongoing demonstrations, an interactive Family Area produced by the Children’s Museum of Richmond, a folk art marketplace, regional and ethnic foods, festival merchandise and more. More information is available at www.richmondfolkfestival.org.
The Festival is produced by Venture Richmond, in a continuing partnership with the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA), the City of Richmond, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the National Park Service and the Children’s Museum of Richmond. Venture Richmond is a non-profit organization formed to engage business and community leaders in partnering with the City to enhance the vitality of the community, particularly Downtown, through economic development, marketing, promotion, advocacy and events. Venture Richmond also produces such long-standing and signature community events as Easter on Parade, Friday Cheers and the 2nd Street Festival, and partners with the Richmond Sportsbackers to co-produce Dominion Riverrock. For more information visit www.venturerichmond.com.
The NCTA was founded in 1933, and is the nation’s oldest folk arts organization. The NCTA presents traditional artists to the public in festivals, national and international tours, concerts, radio and television programs, films, recordings and other programs. www.ncta.net.
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