W.Va. Music Hall of Fame Honors Wheeling Jamboree

Fans line up to see Charley Pride perform at Jamboree USA at the Capitol Music Hall, now called Capitol Theatre, on Main Street in downtown Wheeling. Dave Heath of Wheeling Jamboree provided the historical photos.

In a nod to the far-reaching influence of the Wheeling Jamboree in all its incarnations over a span of 85 years, the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame will present it with the Spirit Award during the biennial induction ceremony on Saturday at the Culture Center in Charleston.

Darnell Miller, the longest-running Jamboree member, and guitarist Roger Hoard, who played the show for 25 years and was musical director for eight, will accept the award. Presenting the award is Carol Lee Cooper of Nashville, daughter of Jamboree stars and Hall of Fame members Stoney and Wilma Lee Cooper. Cooper will talk about “growing up” with the Jamboree when her parents were regulars during the years it was staged at the Virginia Theatre, said Hall of Fame founder and director Michael Lipton.

“Since we started this, there’s been a big tie with Wheeling,” Lipton said of the Hall of Fame. In 2009, Jamboree long-timers Doc and Chickie Williams were inducted. Other inductees from Wheeling in other genres include entertainer Peter Marshall, opera singer Eleanor Steber, Grammy-winning bluegrass artist Tim O’Brien, saxophone legend Chu Berry and Billy Cox, who played bass guitar for Jimi Hendrix.

The Wheeling Jamboree is a shoo-in for the Spirit Award, which recognizes organizations as well as non-entertainers who have contributed to the music industry.

“As the second-longest running radio show in the country, it was very significant,” Lipton said. Only the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville has been in existence longer.

Dolly Parton performs at the Jamboree USA in Wheeling in 1976.

“A lot of people don’t know that the Jamboree went toe-to-toe with the (Grand Ole) Opry for many years,” Lipton said.

The Jamboree, the brain child of WWVA-AM 1170 managing director George W. Smith, aired from the studio in January 1933. Three months later, it was first broadcast from the Capitol Theatre in front of a live audience of more than 3,000. Every Saturday night for the next eight decades, with a few interruptions including World War II, listeners could tune in to hear top country and bluegrass performers while fans flocked to various Wheeling venues to catch the show in person. A record-breaking 10,000 fans attended four sold-out shows by Charley Pride, who had just been named Country Music Association’s vocalist of the year and entertainer of the year, in 1971.

The show reached 20 states and Canada, making international stars of singers such as Darnell Miller and the Williamses, who still enjoy a following up north.

“Basically, every top country performer, it was kind of a mandatory stop,” Lipton said. “If you were a top artist, you did the Jamboree.”

“Country music in the state of West Virginia has been crowned by the Jamboree’s contributions to the music industry,” said Dave Heath, president of Wheeling Jamboree Inc., which continues the tradition of live music performances and also broadcasts previous Jamboree shows on WWOV-FM from downtown Wheeling. While the Capitol shows discontinued in 2004, the Wheeling Jamboree, now a charitable nonprofit organization, has managed to keep the music going in various venues throughout the region and continues to accept new members and attract new audiences.

This photo of the “Jamboree Gang” was made in 1937 by Photo Crafters of Wheeling, W.Va. Announcer Walter Patterson is shown in the inset.

The Jamboree’s 85th anniversary show will take place April 7 at the Capitol Theatre and will feature Hall of Fame members Ronnie Milsap and Charlie McCoy, Darnell Miller, Tim O’Brien and other current Jamboree members such as newcomer Rachel Whitcomb.

The Jamboree has a proud tradition of launching careers, including Glen Dale’s Brad Paisley, an international country music icon. At age 13, Paisley performed an original Christmas song on the show then known as Jamboree USA. He joined the staff band, where he played weekly for eight years. He moved to Nashville to attend Belmont College and was signed to his first record deal in 1999.


In addition to the Spirit Award presentation, six West Virginia musicians will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Wheeling native Mollie O’Brien and Huntington native Michael Cerveris will emcee the show, which will be broadcast live on television via the West Virginia Public Broadcasting System.

This year’s inductees include:

Little Jimmy Dickens performs at the Wheeling Jamboree in 2010.

— Ann Magnuson — A Charleston native now living in Los Angeles, Magnuson has performed on Broadway and on the big screen (“Desperately Seeking Susan,” “Clear and Present Danger”) and small screen (“Anything But Love.”) She was the manager of the now-infamous Club 57 in New York City. Her music career spans six decades and a variety of styles, including heavy metal, psychedelic and cabaret. Richard Metzger will present her award, and she will perform.

— Hasil Adkins (1937-2005) — Boone County native Adkins pioneered the psychobilly sound. He sang many of his songs while playing the guitar and drums at the same time. Norton Records in New York began re-releasing his recordings, which has garnered Adkins a cult following internationally. The band Southern Culture on the Skids will perform.

— Frank Hutchison (1897-1945) — A coal miner from Logan County, Hutchison learned to play blues guitar at a young age, taught by two black men who lived nearby. He recorded blues, Civil War songs and Tin Pan Alley songs for Okeh Records. His biography on the Hall of Fame website notes he influenced “many musicians, including Doc Watson, John Fahey, Cowboy Copas, Bob Dylan, The New Lost City Ramblers and Chris Smither.” Tim O’Brien will perform.

— The Morris Brothers — John and the late David Morris of Clay County are Old-Time musicians who founded the Morris Family Old-Time Music Festival in Clay County. They were instrumental in establishing the first Vandalia Gathering at the Cultural Center in 1977, according to the Hall of Fame website. John Morris and David’s son, Jack, will perform.

— Michael W. Smith — Winner of three Grammy Awards and 45 Dove Awards, the Wayne County native is one of the most influential artists in Contemporary Christian music. He has sold more than 15 million albums and has had 32 No. 1 hits. He has written songs for Christian singers such as Sandi Patty, Kathy Troccoli, Bill Gaither and Amy Grant. His newest studio album, “A Million Lights,” will be released on Feb. 16, and his latest live worship album, “Surrounded,” will follow a week later.

Regulars on the Jamboree perform in the North Market Auditorium in Wheeling. It is pre-World War II, but the exact year is unknown. The image was donated by a fan. Below left is Little Jimmy Dickens performing at the Jamboree in 2010.

— Fred “Sonic” Smith (1949-1994) — Born in Lincoln County, Smith grew up in Detroit, and his band, MC5, helped define the hard-driving, low-fi Detroit sound that preceded punk and heavy metal. The band was on the cover of Rolling Stone and opened for many top acts including Cream and Janis Joplin. It disbanded in 1972. His nickname was the inspiration for the band Sonic Youth. Smith’s widow, female rocker Patti Smith, and their children Jesse and Jackson will perform at the show.

Complete biographies and sound clips can be accessed at http://wvmusichalloffame.com/ 2018inductees.

“This is probably the most diverse class I think we’ve ever had. Simply the two Smiths — Michael W. and Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith are bookends, really. It doesn’t get much farther apart than that,” Lipton said.

McCoy will lead the house band. Doors open at 7 p.m. The show starts at 7:30. Tickets are available on the Hall of Fame website, www.wvmhof.com.