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The Morris Brothers of Ivydale, Clay County, are among the most well-known and celebrated West Virginia traditional musicians. The elder, David, was born April 6, 1944. A guitarist and autoharp player, he also wrote songs. John, a traditional old-time fiddler, was born September 3, 1946. Their parents, Dallis and Anna Morris, were both guitar players as well as schoolteachers and farmers, and the brothers’ musical heritage extended back to their grandparents, at least two of whom were banjo players. Among their neighbors were legendary West Virginia musicians, including banjo player Jenes Cottrell and fiddler French Carpenter.

David Morris served as a medic in Vietnam and returned to Ivydale in 1968. In 1969, he and John founded the Morris Family Old-Time Music Festival, which they hosted each year in Ivydale between 1969 and 1973. The gathering attracted thousands of festival-goers and a bright constellation of mountain musicians: Sherman Hammons, J.P. Fraley, Ira Mullins, Sylvia O’Brien, Phoebe Cottrell Parsons, Tommy Thompson, Lee Triplett, and dozens of others. In 1972, filmmaker Robert Gates captured the festival’s music, dancing, and atmosphere in a 30-minute documentary.

In 1977, the brothers helped to found the Vandalia Gathering, an annual Memorial Day Weekend festival held on West Virginia’s State Capitol grounds.

The Morris Brothers band included Pocahontas County banjo player Dwight Diller and North Carolina harmonica player John Martin. The band performed widely and released several recordings. David Morris was nationally known for his singing voice and performed throughout the U.S., including at hundreds of folk festivals. In 2015, the year before his death, he gave a crowd-rousing performance on Mountain Stage, West Virginia Public Broadcasting internationally syndicated music show.

Both David and John were involved in union and environmental causes during the 1960s and 1970s, and David sang for the campaigns of United Mine Workers of America leaders Jock Yablonski and Arnold Miller. The brothers’ music was featured in Barbara Kopple’s Oscar-winning 1976 documentary, Harlan County, USA; David also contributed music to Kopple’s 2015 film about Vietnam veterans, Shelter. In February 2018, the Morris Brothers were inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.

David Morris died on October 14, 2016. John Morris continues to play fiddle and, in 2018, was one of five master traditional artists working with apprentices in the West Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program.

This Article was written by Colleen Anderson

Last Revised on June 22, 2020

Cite This Article

Anderson, Colleen "The Morris Brothers." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 22 June 2020. Web. 27 September 2021.


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