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Young and Old: Traditional Music Inspires a New Generation

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Jessica Lilly

There’s a culture of music that’s been passed down orally through the hills of West Virginia for many generations.

Old time music has roots in Celtic and Native American cultures, as well as American ballads and popular music and poems that passed on through oral tradition. The practice of learning young the tunes of their ancestors is alive and well in Sophia, in Raleigh County.

“There’s a lot of good words in an old country song," Carl Hensly of Beckley said. "A lot of times it’s something that they go through."

Hensly is part of a small group of old time country, folks, bluegrass and gospel lovers that meet once a week at Sophia Fire Department in Raleigh County. The door is open to anyone that wants to join on Tuesday nights.

The group has been meeting for more than 20 years.

"Different people’s been in charge of it for a period of years and one dies off and the other one takes over," Hensley said.

That’s the idea, to keep playing with an open invitation hoping that someone will always be there to take over. If not, Hensley says, Appalachians lose a part of their heritage.

“We lose that we lost part of it," Hensley said. "The younger generation is just not going to pick it up and continue. However, we have talked two or three young ones in here and they’ve turned out to be excellent.”

Picking Up the Melody

One of those youngsters is Sophia resident, Jordan Young.

Jordan Young is passionate about Bluegrass Music. He plays mandolin, guitar, banjo upright bass and sings.

"In a way I think it was something I was doing to get closer to him because I stayed at his house all the time," Young said.

Young says it was his grandfather that took him to the jam sessions in Sophia. For Young it was time spent with his family, and a place to learn.

"That’s where I learned to play honestly," Young said. "I knew maybe four chords and he said, 'well I’ll take ya some place where you can kind of just play around with people and through time I got to playing solos with them and it just helped me so much."

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Credit Toni Doman

His grandfather passed away about a year ago. And now it’s more important than ever for Young to carry on the traditions.

Young is now a student at Glenville State College, getting a degree in Bluegrass. The website boasts it as the world’s first four year bachelor of arts degree in Bluegrass Music.

Young says studying Bluegrass and old-time music offers a window into Appalachia’s past and he hopes to help carry it on, into the future.


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