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Clay County musician receives national honor

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IVYDALE, WV (WOWK) – “I’m a fiddle player. If you want to hear fiddle music, I’m going to play fiddle music for you,” said John D. Morris, who has been playing the fiddle for most of his life.

He specializes in old-time fiddle playing… which he calls “mountain music.”

“Just about everything I play is pre-1940, pre-World War II,” Morris said.

He also plays a mean banjo and guitar. His mother taught him how to play guitar on a late 1920s era Bradley Kincaid guitar.

For his artistic excellence and devotion to old-time West Virginia music, the National Endowment for the Arts has named Morris a 2020 National Heritage Fellow.

“I was surprised to win it but I was also very honored to win it.”

Morris said there was supposed to be a banquet in Washington, D.C., and concert at the Kennedy Center but they fell victim to the pandemic. He hopes they reschedule.

“If everything works out and this flu subsides it will probably be next year,” Morris said. When asked if he plans to attend, he laughed, “Most certainly.”

John Morris is also a member of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. He and his brother David were inducted in 2018 as part of the Morris Brothers.

David passed away in 2016. John says being a part of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame is also a great honor. John Morris was inducted by former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise.

Hall of Fame founder Michael Lipton said the Morris Brothers are a very important part of West Virginia music.

“They kind of bridged the gap between the real old-time people and the next generation,” Lipton said.

John and David Morris hosted the Morris Family Old-Time Music Festival from 1969 to 1973 at their home in Clay County.

They were also politically active in the 1960s and 1970s… supporting the United Mine Workers and environmental causes.

Lipton said John is a valuable resource for West Virginia music.

“He’s so immersed in Clay County which Clay, Calhoun, Gilmer, Roane, it’s the seat of West Virginia traditional music. It’s right in the center and it didn’t get affected by a lot of outside music,” Lipton said.

And as for John Morris’ legacy… he’s taught old time music to others and is confident a younger generation will carry on the tradition.

“They may not live in old-time circumstances but there is a bunch of people that’s playing old time music and there are some good players,” Morris said.

Before the pandemic hit, Morris played at festivals and other events he was invited to. He looks forward to playing out in public again.

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