In a solemn ceremony Friday at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville, six legendary figures in bluegrass music were presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Glenville State College in Glenville, WV.
Things got started with a solo rendition of Bill Monroe’s Evening Prayer Blues by Luke Shamblin, a former West Virginia mandolin champion and GSC graduate, followed by a procession onto the stage. Bluegrass program director Megan Darby intodroced the program, and Sam Jackson led the assembled family, friends, and students in the Pledge of Allegiance and a brief prayer.
Provost Dr. Victor Vega then introduced Buddy Griffin, Bobby Osborne, Sonny Osborne, Jesse McReynolds, Ronnie Reno (accepting for Mac Wiseman), and Jeanine McReynolds Reynolds, and his grandson James (accepting for Jim McReynolds) and the college’s Board of Governors.
That was followed by a performance from the GSC bluegrass band, who entertained the audience with their rendition of Dear Old Dixie. The band included Dr. Darby on guitar, Rebekah Long on bass, Derek Vaden from The Larry Stephenson on banjo, Shamblin on mandolin, and Buddy Griffin on fiddle. Derek is also a Glenville grad, and Buddy is the bluegrass program’s founding director. They also laid down a strong on Can’t You Hear Me Calling, with Megan on lead vocal.
Dr. Tracy Pellet, President of GSC, spoke about how they had considered waiting for a commencement to bestow these honors, but decided that ultimately, what they really wanted was to make the presentation here in Nashville in the capitol of country and bluegrass music. He also described his wonderment walking the halls of the Sheraton last night during his first SPBGMA experience, where he encountered a jam with a goat playing a quatro – or was that just a joke? It sure got a big laugh.
But he quickly got on to recounting the exploits of the men on stage who were assembled to accept this special honor. In sharing his own newfound appreciation of bluegrass, Dr. Pellet mentioned the unique community aspect of the bluegrass scene, its connectedness with family, with each other, and all the things that are best about our country. “It has a purity to it that we all long for, a way to connect on a very personal level.” He also brought to mind the fact that these honored artists have achieved immortality, something we all long for.
Then he brought to the stage, The Larry Stephenson Band, who offered a tribute to the assembled honorees. First was an Osborne Brothers classic, Give This Message to Your Heart, with the high lead vocal, and Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes, a big hit for Jim & Jesse. It was a great treat watching the originators seated on stage, watching this performance of their music being played by a new generation of pickers they had inspired.
Reno joined the group for the Little White Church, which he said all of the honorees had recorded at one time or another. He added that he had spoken to Mac last night at the rehab center where he is recuperating, and reports that he is doing well, and that they were all going out to the rehab facility that afternoon to present his doctorate in person. Ronnie added that Mac is the only one still alive who had changed his diapers back in 1948.
For a final number, all the performers returned to the stage for Will The Circle Be Unbroken.
Dr Pellet then closed the ceremony with a few additional remarks.
What a wonderful recognition for these pioneering artists, and a marvelous inspiration for future students of the music at Glenville State College, who offer a four year bachelor’s degree in bluegrass both in person on campus and online.