John Viers, a popular and prominent banjo banjo in southwestern Virginia, has died. He passed away on November 21 at 78 years of age.
Born John Thomas Viers in 1943 in Hiwassee, VA, he started playing banjo in the third grade along with what became a lifelong friend, Olen Smythers, who played mandolin. They played together all the way through high school, winning talent shows and later forming the band, The Virginia Buddies.
Though he didn’t much care for being known as a hot lick picker, John won the National Banjo Championship in 1970 at Watermelon Park in Berryville, VA. He worked with a number of groups in the region, and accomplished goals that he never dreamed possible as a young boy, including playing on the Grand Ole Opry, and performing at the White House for President and Mrs. Carter.
Perhaps his greatest contribution to bluegrass, however, was his years of teaching people to play, helping organize shows and clubs, and presenting educational offerings around his home. You would also find him serving as an MC for bluegrass concerts all around Virginia and North Carolina. John was always an encourager for people learning to play, whatever their age, and was proficient on all of the bluegrass instruments.
He was instrumental in the formation of the New River Valley Community College Banjo & Fiddle Club in Dublin, VA where amateur pickers could congregate and play together. When The Crooked Road organization started up he played regularly for them at their Heartwood Center in Abingdon. Basically, whenever anyone needed help learning, promoting, or marketing bluegrass or traditional mountain music, you could always count on John Viers to be there to lend a hand.
Once John gave his life to Christ, he started a music ministry that took him as far as California to share his message, and he was nominated for an Inspirational Country Music Award. Most of his energy went into ministry and playing at church from this point on.
Later in his life, he enjoyed performing for residents at the Pulaski Senior Center, often with his friend Butch Robins.
John fell ill in November while practicing for the Christmas program at Max Creek Baptist Church where he was a member. His family recounts that he was fortunate to remain conscious and lucid right up to the end, and was able to say his goodbyes in confidence of his salvation.
Funeral services were held for John Viers on November 28, after which he was laid to rest in the Max Creek Baptist Church-Cemetery.
R.I.P., John Viers.