Saturday, March 25th, the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame held their 15th annual induction ceremony. Since 2008, the Hall has been honoring musicians, broadcasters, songwriters, luthiers, scholars, promoters, and those in the recording industry who are either from, or have strong influences and ties to, the Blue Ridge region, and who have preserved, furthered, and contributed to the musical traditions of these mountains.
Wilkes Heritage Museum Director, Jennifer H. Furr, provided insight on the hall of fame’s purpose and mission, “The vision for the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame, which covers territory from northern Georgia to northern Virginia, has always been to bring recognition to the rich musical heritage of the region. The musical influences and their legacies from this area are wide-reaching and continue to be felt with today’s generation. The Wilkes Heritage Museum pays homage to the music through the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame with the yearly induction ceremony, exhibits, and musical performances.”
Saturday found seven new inductees being added to this musical legacy of the Blue Ridge, including the Cockman Family, Willard Gayheart, Benton Flippen, Barry Poss and Sugar Hill Records, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, L. W. Lambert, and Donnie Story.
The ceremony got underway with the Cockman Family who were inducted under the Gospel category. “We’re very pleased that our family is receiving this great honor tonight,” band leader John Cockman Sr. began. The Cockman Family has been performing bluegrass gospel music with their own traditional spin for the past thirty five-years; the group is composed of John Cockman and his five children, Caroline Cockman Fisher, John Cockman, Jr., Billy Cockman, David Cockman, and Ben Cockman.
“I never imagined that through their music they would meet so many wonderful people like you, and travel so many different places, and present the gospel in song everywhere they would go,” he said of his family, “So thirty-five years is not so long if you love what you do.”
The Cockmans played two songs after accepting their award, Jesus Hold My Hand and Three O’Clock Prayer.
Presentations continued with Willard Gayheart being inducted as a Sideman and Regional Musician. Willard has made his home in Galax, VA, for the past sixty-one years. “I feel blessed to live in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and when I came here, I didn’t know anything about this place. That was sixty-one years ago when I moved to Galax, and there was so much music around. I’m so glad I came; I never wanted to be any place else. I’m ninety years old, soon be ninety-one, and I’m still playing and still enjoying it, and I think it’s helped my longevity.”
Willard commented on his life in the Blue Ridge. He has been a part of many regional bands throughout the years, including the Mountain Ramblers, the Highlanders, Skeeter and the Skidmarks, and Alternate Roots. These days, Willard can be found picking with his son-in-law, Scott Freeman, at the Front Porch Gallery & Frame Shop and the Blue Ridge Music Center. Willard played two songs with Virginialina, the group that has been the house band at the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame for the past 15 years, featuring David Johnson on guitar and fiddle, Eric Ellis on banjo, Scott Freeman on mandolin and fiddle, and Scott Gentry on bass.
Benton Flippen was the next inductee in the category of Pioneer Artist. Benton is known for developing a style of fiddle playing that emphasized slides and carried a strong, square dance style rhythm. Kelly Epperson, owner and operator of WPAQ 740 AM, accepted the award on behalf of Benton, who passed away June 28, 2011, and his family. He recounted stories from the earliest days of WPAQ, including the very first broadcast from the station February 2, 1948; Benton played on the first live radio broadcast from the station in Mount Airy, NC, with the Green Valley Boys, and he was the first to play into the microphone at the station during one of the late night test sessions. In April 2007, Benton made WPAQ history again as a member of the first band to be streamed internationally from the station. Virginialina played two tunes for Benton Flippen’s induction, Ragtime Annie and Liberty.
Next, Barry Poss and Sugar Hill Records were inducted under the Recording Industry Category. Since 1978, Sugar Hill Records has boasted a catalog of some of bluegrass and traditional music’s finest. Among the label’s ranks are bluegrass super groups and artists the likes of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Boone Creek, Skaggs and Rice, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, and the Nashville Bluegrass Band, traditional and folk music masters such as Doc Watson, and country artists gone bluegrass like Dolly Parton.
“I am deeply honored to receive this award from the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame, and it’s especially gratifying to be included in this incredible group of inductees and presenters, many of whom I’ve had some connection with. Cindy Baucom is a dear friend and supporter of Sugar Hill Records through her own illustrious career, and Terry Baucom was on our very first Sugar Hill release as a member of Boone Creek, and later came back with the original Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver band. Doyle himself is a cornerstone for the label and for me,” Barry said during his acceptance speech.
He went on to give the history of Sugar Hill, tell stories that connected with several of the 2023 inductees, and in closing, he summed up the vision and goal of Sugar Hill Records by recalling memories of his relationship with Doc Watson. Barry remarked, “Most importantly, the relationship with Doc provided a moral compass for me and the label. I thought we should be like Doc and stand for excellence, integrity, and the creative open-mindedness to make something new while holding on to your roots.”
The performances accompanying the Sugar Hill induction featured Virginialina and two artists that recorded for the label during the early years, Doyle Lawson and Terry Baucom. Doyle played Darby’s Castle, a song he cut for Sugar Hill while he was still with the Country Gentlemen; Terry played Head Over Heels, a cut from One Way Track by Boone Creek, which was the very first Sugar Hill release.
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver were inducted in the Nationally Known Artist Category. Cindy and Terry Baucom were the presenters for Doyle’s induction. Terry began,”“I first met Doyle Lawson when he was a member of J.D. Crowe’s band out in Kentucky. We’ve been friends for many years and worked together a couple of times in Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver.”
Cindy continued, “To briefly summarize the career of Doyle Lawson in just two to three minutes is impossible, but we’re gonna try our best to hit all the high notes, just like Doyle has done so often as a high lead and tenor singer.”
And hit the high notes they did; Cindy highlighted the early influences in Doyle’s career, encompassing not only the bluegrass influences, but also including the impact of his family’s gospel singing on his later albums, and Quicksilver’s quintessential quartets.
“Let me insert right here that the first all gospel release by Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver on Sugar Hill Records, Rock My Soul, it really set the bar high for modern bluegrass fans doing bluegrass gospel music, and a lot [of bluegrass fans], including myself, still consider Rock My Soul to be the gold standard of bluegrass gospel albums,” Cindy commented on the original Quicksilver’s storied gospel album.
She went on to explain that Quicksilver was formed because Doyle was pioneering his own signature sound, and mentioned the many awards Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver had amassed during the band’s forty-two year history. “And there’s so much more that could be said and should be said, but the great thing is Doyle Lawson is still writing his musical story as a producer, mentor, studio guest, and much more,” she concluded.
After accepting his award, Doyle played Shenandoah Breakdown with Cindy, Terry, and Virginialina.
Doyle made this statement about being inducted into the hall of fame, “Well, I must say that it’s quite an honor for me to be inducted, along with a lot of peers that are already here, into the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame. I’m quick to tell people I have roots in North Carolina, and of course I’ve worked a lot in North Carolina; my ancestors came from up around Stokes County originally and settled in Tennessee. So, to come full circle after the career I’ve had and to be inducted here is quite an honor really beyond words.”
This year’s inductee in the Master Musician and Tradition Bearer category was L.W. Lambert. L.W. was a banjo picker from Wilkes County; he played with several notable bluegrass groups including Charlie Monroe and Jim & Jesse before reviving a band he’d previously been a member of, the Blue River Boys, in 1972. The Boys took regional fiddlers conventions by storm their first year on the circuit, winning thirty-one out of the thirty-four conventions they entered.
Terry Baucom, who was a member of the Blue River Boys during the early days of his career, said during L.W.’s presentation, “When I was just a young musician, he taught me a lot: how to bring home a great woman, and he showed me how to shoot pool. Two things me and L.W. liked was to play all day, pool, and pick all night.”
L. W. Lambert’s daughter Melissa Cornett was there to accept the award on behalf of her late father. “I want to thank the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame for inducting my daddy, L.W. Lambert. Daddy would’ve been so proud, and I’m so honored to accept this award for my daddy.”
Virginialina played Bugle Call Rag and Nine Pound Hammer to commemorate L.W.’s induction.
The final award presented at the 2023 Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony was the Dr. T.R. Bryan award, given to a musician who has contributed to the local music scene and musical heritage of Wilkes County, NC. This year, Donnie Story musical a jack of all trades accepted the award, with his influences spanning from rock ’n’ roll to blues to bluegrass. He is involved in several bands including The Non Prophets, Mel Jones & His Bag of Bones, Face the Music, Tin Can Alley, the Fired Pies, and the Banknotes. He performed at the ceremony with Tin Can Alley.
The 2023 Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony concluded with all the artists taking the stage and playing I’ll Fly Away and Will the Circle Be Unbroken.
Special thanks to Jennifer Furr, Nancy Watson, the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame trustees and partners, Wilkes Heritage Museum officers, trustees, and staff, and to all the people who make the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame and the annual induction ceremonies possible.
Congratulations to the 2023 inductees!