RIBA President Sal Sauco and Amy Orlomoski at her Hall of Fame induction – photo by Diane Petit
Long time bluegrass radio host Amy Orlomoski was inducted last week into the Rhode Island Bluegrass Alliance Hall of Fame, along with the Neon Valley Boys, a popular bluegrass group in southern New England in the 1980s.
Amy has been doing bluegrass on the radio for nearly 35 years, 24 of them at WHUS, the radio station at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, where her show, Bluegrass Cafe, is heard every Sunday from 4:00-7:00 p.m. The WHUS signal carries a great distance on 91.7 FM, and is also available online via streaming, so Amy’s show is quite influential in the region.
On accepting her induction, Orlomoski says…
“I am extremely honored to be a part of this group that includes seventeen other members of the southern New England bluegrass community, including Jimmy Gaudreau, Fred & Earl Pike, Sam Tidwell, Mike Kropp, and Sharon Horovitch and Jim Muller of Southern Rail, just to name a few. As a non-musician, I was especially honored to be included, and I’m grateful to the Board and members of RIBA for thinking of me.
This is RIBA’s 10th anniversary as an organization, and the work they do promoting bluegrass not just in Rhode Island, but throughout all of southern New England is outstanding.”
Inductions were held during a ceremony on April 30 in West Greenwich, RI, where honors were also given to a number of important bluegrass figures from long ago: Gertrude Hall, Randy Hawkins, Al Hawkes, and the Lilly Brothers.
RIBA President Sal Sauco is proud to see these important contributions noted in the Hall of Fame.
“Southern New England is home to a vibrant bluegrass community, yet many people are unaware that local musicians and people in the music business, like Amy and the members of the Neon Valley Boys, as well our new Bluegrass Pioneers, have had an impact on bluegrass music both locally and nationally.
RIBA was formed in 2013, and three years later, we started the RIBA Hall of Fame to honor people who have made significant contributions to bluegrass in the region.”
The Neon Valley Boys were also on hand to accept their induction. Formed in 1979, the initial lineup include Mike Bresler on mandolin, Jeff Horton on bass, Karl Dennis on fiddle, Ed Stern on banjo and Ray “Wyatt” Lema on guitar. Paul Mellyn took over on guitar shortly thereafter, as did Tom McLaughlin on mandolin. The bad released their only album in 1983, which was remastered as a CD in 1999. While the band is inactive for the most part, they did offer a reunion show in August of 2022, and get together still just for fun.
The Alliance shared these brief overviews of their 2023 Bluegrass Pioneers:
The Lilly Brothers, Bea Lilly (born Michael Burt Lilly) and brother Everett Lilly, were bluegrass musicians born in Clear Creek, West Virginia. The Lilly Brothers moved to Boston and formed a group called the Confederate Mountaineers who consisted of the brothers on guitar and mandolin, Tex Logan on fiddle, and Don Stover on banjo. They have been credited with bringing bluegrass to New England, and with influencing such future bluegrass artists as Peter Rowan, Joe Val, and Bill Keith, among others.
Al Hawkes was born in Providence, Rhode Island but moved to his family’s homestead in Maine in 1941 when he was 10. His father introduced him to bluegrass music by installing a radio with a long antenna that could pick up music from southern and midwestern radio stations. When he was 13, Hawkes’s mother bought him a guitar, and his father later gave him a Gibson A4 mandolin. Hawkes formed his first band (Al Hawkes Hillbillies) in high school. In the 1940s Hawkes performed as half of the duo Allerton & Alton, the first interracial duo to play bluegrass. They performed live and on radio shows until 1951, despite the segregated climate of the time.
Randy Hawkins (born Irving Richards in Rhode Island) began his love of music early in life when he learned to play the guitar and later formed a country music group, The Country Nighthawks. He got hooked on bluegrass music when he met Fred Pike from Connecticut, a guitar and five-string banjo player. He and Fred formed a bluegrass band called The Bluegrass Nighthawks. During this time, Randy got a job as a DJ at a Rhode Island radio station where he spun bluegrass music to a growing audience of listeners. Randy was the first bluegrass DJ in Rhode Island.
Gertrude Hall has been involved in bluegrass music since the 1960s. She and her husband Bill Hall attended the very first multi-day bluegrass festival, held in Fincastle, Virginia on Labor Day weekend 1965. For over 50 years, Gert opened her Cumberland and Scituate, Rhode Island homes weekly to bluegrass music jams and Bill’s band practices. In the 1970s, Gert wrote a successful grant application for the first New England bluegrass band to be considered for National Arts Council funding. She advised and influenced many bands, including Joe Val and the New England Boys, on how the bands should dress and how audiences received their live performances. Today, Gert is still sought after for musical critiques.
The Rhode Island Bluegrass Alliance is a volunteer organization that promotes bluegrass in their part of the country. Dues are as little as $10/year for an individual membership, and $25/year for bands. Membership information can be found online.
Congratulations to Amy Orlomoski, the Neon Valley Boys, and all of the Bluegrass Pioneers!
All photos by Diane Petit, RIBA Secretary