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Why We Still Need Collaboration, Compassion and Community to Thrive Inside Appalachia

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Emily Hilliard / West Virginia Folklife Program
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John Morris and fiddle student Jen Iskow

In this week’s episode of Inside Appalachia, we’ll explore why communities with a culture of volunteerism, and strong support systems, are more resilient. This episode features several stories that all have one thing in common -- they’re about the impacts of community, and social interactions, have on our ability to thrive.

We’ll learn about “bright spot” communities in Appalachia, which have better than average health statistics, despite also experiencing economic challenges. Researchers have been studying these communities, where they found most organizations share resources and collaborate on projects.

 

We’ll hear about one such community, Wirt County, West Virginia, where educators at the local schools are partnering with counselors who specialize in helping children who’ve experienced trauma.

Also in this episode, we'll explore how music, and in particular spiritual music, can also bring people together, especially when times are tough. Here in Appalachia, there are several musical traditions that date back hundreds of years -- like shape note singing, and church hymms of the Old Regular Baptists.

 

Frank Newsome, Old Regular Baptist gospel singer
Credit photo by Morgan Miller/Virginia Folklife Program
Frank Newsome, Old Regular Baptist gospel singer

We’ll hear from one man, Frank Newsome, a coal miner-turned preacher, and now singer of one of the oldest musical traditions in America. Newsome has a new CD called "Gone Away With a Friend". We’ll hear an excerpt from a short documentary about Newsom, produced by Kelley Libby and Jon Lohman for the show With Good Reason, which is produced by the Virginia Humanities.

Old-Time Fiddler Melvin Wine  

The hymm music Frank Newsome sings uses only the human voice. But there’s one instrument that’s been played in our mountains since the first European settlers came here in the 1700s -- the fiddle. In this episode, we hear the story of Melvin Wine, a fiddler from Braxton County.

He passed away in 2003, but he left a legacy as one of the most prolific fiddlers in West Virginia. He even played for the United States Congress in 1991, when he was chosen as a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts. But he didn’t learn in a formal music program, he learned by listening to his father and other musicians play.

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Credit Michael Keller
Fiddler Melvin Wine

Passing it On

Over the years, Melvin Wine worked intensively with several young fiddlers, teaching them the music he learned from his father and other musicians. He taught them as part of an apprenticeship program that used to be run out of the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, West Virginia. That program ended several years ago, but a new apprenticeship program through the West Virginia Folklife Program is helping connect apprentices with master traditional artists in West Virginia. You might remember we heard from several of these folklorists in a previous episode of Inside Appalachia. Jen Iskow has been learing fiddle from Morris the way old-time musicians have learned for generations, by sitting and playing with one another, face-to-face.

From the West Indies to West Virginia

One day, West Virginia Public Broadcasting producer Russ Barbour started chatting with a very tall and jovial gentlemen who was bagging groceries. His name is Anderson Charles. The two became friends. Russ eventually asked if he could share Anderson’s story with our audience.

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It turns out Anderson Charles is a writer, who has a memoir called “I am a Dirty Immigrant” about his move from the West Indies to West Virginia.

He grew up in a tightly knit community in Grenada, where neighbors often pitched in to help raise each other’s kids and take care of people when they’re sick. And though he grew to love his newly adopted home of Appalachia, he says he initially had a difficult time finding that same feeling of community. The title of his book “I am a Dirty Immigrant” comes out of an experience he had, when coworkers at a telemarketing service labeled him a “dirty immigrant”.

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from Mountain Stage, With Good Reason, which is produced by the Virginia Humanities, and the West Virginia Folklife Program, a project of the West Virginia Humanities Council.

Inside Appalachia is produced by Roxy ToddJesse Wright is our executive producer. Eric Douglas is our associate producer. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. We’d love to hear from you. Tweet us  @InAppalachia.

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Roxy Todd joined West Virginia Public Broadcasting in 2014 and works as the producer for Inside Appalachia. She's the recipient of a National Edward R. Murrow Award for "Excellence in Video," for a story about the demands small farmers face in West Virginia. She also won a National PMJA Award For "Best Feature" for her story about the history of John Denver's song "Country Roads." You can reach her at rtodd@wvpublic.org.
Jessica can be heard on Inside Appalachia and West Virginia Morning the station’s daily radio news program. You can reach her at jlilly@wvpublic.org
Eric is a native of Kanawha County who graduated from Marshall University with a degree in journalism. He has written for newspapers and magazines throughout his career. He is an author, writing both nonfiction and fiction, including a series of thriller novels set in locations around the world. You can reach Eric at edouglas@wvpublic.org