CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WOWK) — West Virginia’s rich musical history is celebrated at the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. It’s located on the second level of the Charleston Town Center and a music lover can get lost in there.
“Music is very important to people in this state,” said Michael Lipton, the hall of fame’s founder.
Lipton is a musician who came up with the idea in 2005 — a place where musicians from West Virginia could be properly honored for their contributions to music.
“This was our first class of inductees in 2007 and it’s a pretty amazing group of people,” Lipton said as he motioned toward a display of the 2007 inductees.
It included legendary R & B and soul performer Bill Withers, country music pioneer Little Jimmy Dickens, and avant-garde and classical composer George Crumb. The hall has one of Crumb’s early pianos and his musical calligraphy.
Lipton said they had no idea where to start.
“Let’s start with the biggest fish so we call Bill Withers,” Lipton said. “We explained what we were doing and said would you be willing to come here to participate and accept your award and he said I wouldn’t dream of missing it and we said maybe we’re onto something here.”
The exhibit space in the mall has pictures of Hall of Fame members, records, musical instruments and other memorabilia.
Lipton said the Hall of Fame award is made from West Virginia wood and West Virginia glass. The Hall of Fame includes musicians from all genres.
Besides country music stars like Kathy Mattea of Cross Lanes and Connie Smith, there’s game show host Peter Marshall who was also a singer, Christian musician Michael W. Smith, and the Polka King, Frank Yankovic, who was born in West Virginia but grew up in Cleveland.
“His father who was a logger in Tucker County got busted for moonshining and they ran him out of town, not out of town, out of state,” Lipton said.
“Even though he didn’t live here very long, interestingly enough, and I think this has something to do with West Virginia. When anyone asked him where he was from, he said West Virginia.”
Did you know one of Jimi Hendrix’s bass players, Billy Cox, was from Wheeling? One of his bass guitars is on display in the hall.
So why is there a Harlem Globetrotter’s jersey on display? The team’s song, “Sweet Georgia Brown” was written by Maceo Pinkard from Bluefield, West Virginia.
“He was also the first African-American to own a music publishing house in the U.S. and he helped give Duke Ellington his start,” Lipton explained.
John Ellison was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2015.
“It was a great honor first of all,” Ellison said.
“And Michael Lipton, I applaud him, for all the work that he’s done in bringing to the surface how much talent that there is here in West Virginia.”
Ellison is best known for writing the song “Some Kind of Wonderful” which he recorded with the Soul Brothers Six.
“To date, Some Kind of Wonderful has been recorded by 67 artists and it’s been on the radio over six million times, Ellison explained.
The song became a huge hit for Grand Funk Railroad. That song changed Ellison’s life.
“My song is known all over the world and I receive royalties from my song, so I’ve never had to have a day job,” he said.
Ellison comes back to the Mountain State three or four times a year. Earlier this month, he performed for the kids at Piedmont Elementary School in Charleston. He told them despite his poor upbringing, he achieved success and told them they can do the same.
“Whatever your dreams are, whatever your vision is in life, don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do,” he said during the student assembly.
There are live performances at the hall on the third Sunday of every month. It’s a chance for performers like Marcus Oglesby to showcase their talents in a unique venue. Shoppers from the mall often hear the music and stop in for a listen.
“Heard some music going on. Come in here man this guy’s jamming, sounds great,” said Bradley Linville of Boone County.
Linville bought one of Oglesby’s CDs. He was impressed to see all the memorabilia at the Hall of Fame.
“This is really neat, and I recommend it to come out here and check it out. Hey, it’s free and it’s great,” Linville said.
Emmalea Deal of Summersville was also performing that day. She’s played at the all several times and says the feedback has been amazing.
“It’s really cool being able to play in a place that has West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in the name and being a West Virginia artist, it means the world,” Deal said.
The latest West Virginia Music Hall of Fame class was inducted in 2018. The next class will be inducted in April 2020 in Charleston. New classes are inducted every two years.
The 2020 class includes:
- Traditional pioneering musicians the Hammons Family
- Singer/songwriter and host of Mountain Stage Larry Groce
- Singer/songwriter Mayf Nutter
- Gospel singer Ethel Caffie-Austin
- Country/rockabilly duo the Davis Twins.
“I always forget the famous talent that we have here and every time I come in, I look around, I’m like wow, those people are iconic,” Deal said.
The West Virginia Music Hall of Fame is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. There is also a permanent exhibit at Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg and a traveling exhibit that tours the state of West Virginia.