Dr. Ethel Caffie-Austin: West Virginia’s “First Lady of Gospel Music”

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CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — Dr. Ethel Caffie-Austin brought authentic African-American gospel music to audiences throughout West Virginia, the United States and beyond. She is West Virginia’s “First Lady of Gospel Music.” 

“I was always a lover of music and because of that I just enjoyed it,” Caffie-Austin said. 

13 News’ Rob Macko sat down with Caffie-Austin a few weeks ago to talk about her life and career. 

Born in Bluefield, West Virginia and raised near Mount Hope, she started playing piano at the age of six! 

“I was the daughter of a pastor and it wasn’t a matter of will you play it was a matter of you will play,” she said. 

And play — she did!!! 

Caffie-Austin directed her first choir at eleven. 

She graduated from West Virginia Tech and later moved to Charleston. 

Believing music can bring people together — she has taught school and taken her music ministry into prisons, schools, and community centers. 

“It was important for me to be able to reach those people who love the music but didn’t get to hear it that frequently,” Caffie-Austin said. 

Caffie-Austin will be inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in April. It’s a place where music lovers will be able to learn about her life and music.   

“I’m excited about that. Really excited,” she said of the honor. 

Caffie-Austin’s love of music — a constant throughout her life. 

The music’s roots go back to the slave era and the early African-American churches. 

“A lot of times that was the only way they could survive. Encouraging words from the music,” she explained.  

Caffie-Austin founded the Black Sacred Music Festival which has been held at several locations throughout the state, recorded albums and toured all over the world.  

She released instructional videos on how to play the piano. 

Caffie-Austin has struggled in recent years. She was diagnosed with cancer. 

“I lost my voice. I was whispering and this is the result of my voice coming back. I wasn’t supposed to be able to sing a note or talk but God has been good to me,” she said. 

Her doctors found a way to save her vocal cords during her treatment. Now, she says doctors can’t find any signs of cancer. She plans to sing publicly in her church again soon. 

Ethel-Austin was adopted and thought she was an only child until she was in her 50s. That’s when she found out she has many brothers and sisters, and she used to play with some of them as a child. 

She will be inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame on April 4 in Charleston. 

Caffie-Austin said she’s honored and grateful and plans to attend the ceremony. 

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