Virginia Myrtle Ellis ‘‘Aunt Jennie’’ Wilson (February 9, 1900-March 2, 1992) was a Logan County traditional musician, considered a master of clawhammer-style banjo playing. The daughter of Huey Brian and Cinderella Lockard Ellis, she was born near Henlawson, West Virginia. She married James Wilson but was widowed in 1939 when he was killed in a mine accident.
Wilson’s musical talent was discovered by folklorist Patrick Gainer of West Virginia University in 1958, and she became a favorite of folk festival audiences until her death. She recorded her best songs for the Library of Congress and was featured on record albums, including A Portrait of Aunt Jennie Wilson, produced by Billy Edd Wheeler. She left behind recorded interviews about her early life and the folk customs of Logan County.
Known for her vivid personality as well as her music, she was fond of saying, ‘‘Don’t take more on your head than you can kick off your heels,’’ meaning one should enjoy life to the utmost, which she did. She often played music with her grandson, Roger Bryant, and inspired other musicians to learn the clawhammer style. She was a recipient of the 1984 Vandalia Award, West Virginia’s highest folk-life honor, for lifetime achievement in traditional music.
This Article was written by Robert Y. Spence
Last Revised on November 19, 2010