By Jessica Farrish
Ghent Elementary School students said “later” to the classroom Friday, headed out to the parking lot and jumped on a music tour bus that had pulled up to the school curb.
Parents shouldn’t yell at their offspring for skipping class to get a slice of the rock ’n ’roll life, though. The 28-foot trailer houses the West Virginia Musical Hall of Fame’s Traveling Museum — a collection of music-related memorabilia, photographs and documents that are all part of the Mountain State’s musical history.
The visit was hosted by Ghent Principal Becky Smith and funded by a grant from the Beckley Area Foundation.
“We certainly want to make the children aware of the arts ... and show them there are other options for careers,” said Smith. “I would hope it would inspire many of our children to explore music opportunities.”
Raleigh County musicians featured in the Traveling Museum and the Interactive Map include Little Jimmy Dickens, The Lilly Brothers, Bill Withers, Charles Lilly, Russ Hicks, Art Simmons, Brandon Green, Marion Meadows and Dwight “Spyder” Turner, according to Michael Lipton, who founded the Hall of Fame.
The exhibits showcase the variety of music that has come from the Mountain State, from opera, jazz and gospel to traditional, country, bluegrass, blues and rock ’n ’roll, added Lipton.
The presentation also includes a session with the WVMHoF’s innovative Interactive Map, a county-by-county, touchscreen map of West Virginia that includes bios, photos and videos/soundclips of 200 notable musicians from the Mountain State.
On board the Traveling Museum is the WVMHoF’s unique “make your own CD” studio. The recording studio allows selected students to record a song and leave with a CD of their performance.
Christian Shumate and Kaden Taylor, both 10-year-old fifth-grade students, said the traveling museum was a hit.
Christian, a self-described Korn fan, explained that he’s really into music, with rock and alternative being his favorite genres.
“The tour bus pretty much excited me,” he said. “Especially the part about George Crumb (famed composer, being from West Virginia).”
Kaden added that he likes music and sometimes even uses it as a way to fall asleep.
He said he was surprised to learn the history of one very famous song.
“I didn’t know that ‘Frosty the Snowman’ came from West Virginia,” Kaden explained.
Keyser native Walter “Jack” Rollins wrote lyrics for “Frosty,” “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” and “Smokey the Bear.”
Beckley Area Foundation Executive Director Susan Landis said BAF board members are always pleased to promote arts integration in elementary schools and that she is hopeful that learning the history of famous artists from Raleigh County will inspire and encourage all kids who show musical talent.
“I think that’s really exciting, for young people to see that (the artists) did pursue their dreams and made it big, nationally,” Landis said.
The mobility of the traveling museum was a drawing point, too, since it brings music to the students instead of making the students go to the music.
“It’s mobile, so they can take this to every school,” said Landis. “That’s so much easier for teachers and administrators.”
Landis pointed out that jazz musician Marion Meadows, who grew up in Slab Fork and whose mother lives in Beckley, is featured on the museum tour.
Meadows returned to Beckley recently to play at the annual Labor Day Concert hosted by BAF.
Landis said she travels extensively and that, thanks to Meadows, any jazz station might remind her of Beckley.
“You always hear smooth jazz stations, anywhere, play Marion Meadows,” she reported.
The traveling museum will tour Raleigh County elementary schools through Oct. 16.
The tour is a collaboration with the West Virginia Department of Education, according to Lipton.
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