Harold Michell, bluegrass and old-time music DJ, and MC at Galax Old Fiddlers Convention for many years, passed away on August 5, 2020. Born near Fries, Virginia, and raised in nearby Stevens Creek, he was 82 years old.
The radio first provided comfort to Harold Michell when as a six-year-old, he was bedridden with rheumatic fever. He listened to such greats as Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Kitty Wells, Bill Monroe, and the various comedians and announcers, such as Grant Turner, on the Grand Ole Opry. It was the harmonies of Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys that caught his ear, and instantly he fell in love with bluegrass music.
At the same time, he became determined to work in the radio business.
Mitchell cited Randy Blake on his Suppertime Frolic radio shows on Radio WJJD in Chicago, Illinois, as the first DJ that he ever heard.
He began his emcee career at Fries High School in 1956, when he introduced Charlie Monroe and his Kentucky Partners. Then when he completed his service with Army in 1964, he attended the Carolina School of Broadcasting. He soon became a DJ at Radio WHHV in Hillsville, Virginia, spinning the records by Bill Monroe; Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs; and the other very early bluegrass artists.
Mitchell emceed the Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention starting in 1973 and travelled as presenter for Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt, both of whom befriended him, and served as host for other festivals, including a Ralph Stanley Homecoming Festival.
He also hosted the successful Carroll-Grayson Hoedown show, broadcasting from the Fairview Ruritan Club in Galax every Saturday for 10 years, and introduced the idea of the Fries Fiddlers Convention in 1965.
In his lifetime commitment to bluegrass music, exceeding 30 years, Mitchell worked as a DJ for several bluegrass and country music radio stations, including WBOB FM – now WBRF FM – in Galax.
Long-time friend Mitch Freeman, bass player with bluegrass band Interstate Exchange and bluegrass Gospel band Pathway, once said of Mitchell, “He makes people feel like they’re a part of the show. On the radio, his voice and personality are so distinct that listeners can enjoy for hours. That’s what separates him from others.”
To add a poignant note; he passed during the week in which this year’s Galax convention was due to have taken place, had it not been for the COVID shutdown.
Harold was buried today at Felts Cemetery in Galax at the conclusion of a private family service.
R.I.P., Harold Michell