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Fiddler and banjo player John D. Morris was born in Ivydale on September 3, 1946, into a musical family of farmers and teachers. An acclaimed fiddler and banjo player, and native and life-long resident of Clay County, he is known for his highly danceable fiddling style, with powerful rhythmic bowing, as well as his extensive knowledge of the old-time musical repertoire and corresponding stories of his home county and the surrounding area. With his brother David, John was a member of the venerable old-time music duo, the Morris Brothers.

John was born into a family with deep musical roots. Though John got his first fiddle in the sixth grade, he became serious about fiddling around 1969, studying intensely with other rural Clay County fiddlers Lee Triplett, Ira Mullins, Doc White, Wilson Douglas, and John Johnson, along with Franklin George of Bluefield, West Virginia, and John Hilt of Farmersville, Virginia. “[They] were great influences on my musical development,” he says. He also cites family friends and local musicians Jenes Cottrell and Jenes’ sister Sylvia O’Brien, Phoeba Parsons, and Lester and Linda McCumbers as major influences.

Morris has taught fiddle and banjo at the West Virginia traditional music camp Allegheny Echoes, the Augusta Heritage Center (as Guest Master Artist in 2015 and 2019), Dwight Diller’s Yew Pine Mountain Retreats, and the 4-H Mountain Heritage Weekends. He has been recognized by the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame (as The Morris Brothers, following David’s passing in 2016), at countless fiddler’s conventions, and was the 2015 recipient of the West Virginia Heritage Fiddler Award. On June 23, 2020, the National Endowment for the Arts named John Morris a National Heritage Fellow, the nation’s highest honor in traditional arts and only the fourth from West Virginia.

In 2018, he was a Master Artist in the West Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program, leading an apprenticeship in old-time fiddle and stories of Clay County with Jen Iskow. Morris continues to play a role in sustaining and promoting West Virginia traditional music and is one of the few fiddlers to continue an older regional style, infusing his playing with all the sounds of Clay County—its environment, its history, and its people. He says, “I’d seen a lot of good fiddle players beyond the local people. [But] when it came right down to it, I always came back to Clay County music just being my favorite. My favorites were all right around here, all within 12 miles of me.”

Learn about the West Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program here.

This Article was written by Emily Hilliard

Last Revised on June 24, 2020


Cite This Article

Hilliard, Emily "John Morris." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 24 June 2020. Web. 10 July 2020.

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