People often ask me, "What is folk music?" "What is country music?" "What is bluegrass?" "What kind of music do you have in West Virginia?" These are not easy questions to answer, and they will perhaps never be answered to everyone's satisfaction. But Ivan Tribe's meticulous study, Mountaineer Jamboree, is a welcome contribution in showing what a many splendored thing country music in West Virginia has been.
At the base of it all stands the folk music that rich repository of song and tune expressed and shared by people for their own enjoyment and satisfaction. Whether sung or played, whether performed at home or away, whether in private or in public or in communal gatherings ranging from homecomings to church services, folk music in West Virginia has provided the cultural reservoir out of which all other forms of regional music have sprung. There is music from the early pioneers but also music from a variety of ethnic groups and from Afro-American West Virginians. And while this music is an integral part of West Virginia's history, I am happy to say that it remains a part of our present as well.
What we call country music in West Virginia is rooted in the folk music, yet it also shows influences from the popular music of America. People today think of country music as a national style emanating from Nashville and other central locations. But Ivan Tribe's history shows us how much more complicated the development of country music has been, and in West Virginia, at least how strongly it is rooted in local and regional tastes and values. We may be proud of how many West Virginians made records in the history of country music, but those records also remind us that country music styles have varied in different regions. There is not, and should not be, a single country music style. Rather, we can all take pride as Americans in the regional diversity that exists throughout our great country.
One of Professor Tribe's most interesting contributions is his history of country music on radio in West Virginia. Perhaps because radio broadcasts have been less well preserved than commercial recordings, we sometimes forget the importance of radio as a medium in the development of country music. Certainly this volume indicates how important radio and television have been in West Virginiafrom the nationally famous Wheeling Jamboree to a kaleidoscope of local and regional programs.
Bluegrass occupies a special niche in West Virginia's history, as it does in other states of the Upper South. It developed in the years after World War II as an alternative to the emerging standard country sound. West Virginians participated in the development of bluegrass in its early years, and it continues to be a popular grassroots style throughout the state.
As one reads Mountaineer Jamboree, one is struck not only by the famous names associated with West Virginia, but also by the hundreds of other singers and instrumentalists who have made their unique contributions. This is a history not simply of famous personages but of those who have worked and shared and contributed their creative spirit to give musical expression to West Virginia's values and heritage.
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