Joe Wilson, who served as the Executive Director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts from 1976 until he retired in 2004, passed away on Sunday (May 17). He was 76 years of age.
He had been in ill health in recent years, undergoing two kidney transplants, and suffering heart problems as well. Joe died in the hospital in Winston-Salem, NC.
Though a professional champion of folk and traditional music of every kind, his work went largely unnoticed by all but a few of the artists, music lovers, and cultural traditions he embraced. Joe was a tireless supporter of the music of the Blue Ridge region, being born and raised in East Tennessee, though his work at NCTA involved the preservation and archival of all sorts of folk music and arts, those of American origin, and of the many immigrant and native peoples who have lived here.
After “retiring,” Wilson continued to serve as Chairman of the NCTA, and remained on their Board of Directors. He was also Director for the Blue Ridge Music Center in Galax, VA, whose genesis was almost wholly his doing. Virginia’s Crooked Road was also his brainchild, and Joe wrote a book about the project in 2006, A Guide to the Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, a paperback book packaged with an audio CD of the music of the region.
Sammy Shelor, banjoist and bandleader with Lonesome River Band, was among the artists who recognized Wilson’s work behind the scenes.
“Joe was the Best Friend and Greatest Historian of American Music I have ever known. He was very influential in many different areas of the music business for many years. He was a great friend to me and so many musicians around the world. He will be missed.”
And Dudley Connell of Seldom Scene, who has worked as an archivist for the NCTA since 2000, shared this memoriam on Facebook.
“Joe Wilson, one of the most interesting and important people I have ever known, has passed away. He was a great friend to many musicians, including me, and through his vision, writings, and natural intellect, he changed the way many thought about presenting traditional music. His accomplishments are too many to list in a single post, from the Crooked Road to the revolving National Folk Festivals, but please do yourself a favor and become acquainted with this national treasure. It is very unlikely he will be replaced in my lifetime. That’s not really true. Joe will never be replaced and I feel lucky to have lived on the same planet and at the same time as Mr. Wilson. Sometimes getting older ain’t so bad. I got to hear Joe stories from the man himself. I’ll cherish that memory. Rest in Peace Joe. You earned it fair and square.”
The Wilson family is requesting that in lieu of flowers, Joe’s friends might consider a donation to the Blue Ridge Music Center.
R.I.P., Joe Wilson.