Traditional American music had few friends more dedicated or influential than Joe Wilson, who lived from 1938 to 2015. Joe served as Executive Director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts for 28 years, during which time he also managed the National Folk Festival, a free music and arts event that seeks to promote folk music of every kind as a public service at various locations in the United States. During his tenure it had been established that the festival moves every three years to a different community, often spawning new permanent events in its wake once it moves on.
You didn’t find Wilson’s name on show marquees or on radio charts, but his work behind the scenes for Appalachian music led to the creation of Virginia’s Crooked Road and the Blue Ridge Music Center in Galax. He was named as a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2001 and retired from active work at the NCTA in 2004, though he continued to serve on their board while living his retirement in southwest Virginia.
In the academic arts world he was known as a writer, having begun his career as a journalist in the 1960s. He continued to write throughout his life, and now the University of Tennessee Press has announced plans to publish two books of his writings in 2017, edited by Fred Bartenstein.
Roots Music in America – Collected Writings of Joe Wilson contains an anthology of his musings on the great traditional artists of the 20th century, including Willie Nelson, Doc Watson, Clarence Ashley, the Stanley Brothers, Kenny Baker, Cephas & Wiggins, and John Jackson. He also covers the growth and development of the art form from the 18th century forward in this collection of works sorted by theme. It is slated for release on April 25.
A companion volume, Lucky Joe’s Namesake: The Extraordinary Life and Observations of Joe Wilson is due on March 15. It focuses more on his writings on topics other than music, including his social activism and some more autobiographical musings. The content of both books were taken from Wilson’s contributions to numerous periodicals, plus liner notes, tour booklets, and unpublished works and correspondence.
Pre-orders are being accepted now from UT Press, and from popular online resellers. Both will be offered in paperbound editions, and Roots Music In America will also be available in PDF form.