“By Ear & By Heart” Music Exhibit

Surveying a Century of Floyd County Music Makers

For our “By Ear& By Heart – A Hundred Years of Music Making in Floyd County” 2015 exhibit, the Old Church Gallery collected a variety of stories and songs by generations of Floyd County’s old-time musicians. Music making, singing, and dancing flow through the bloodlines of many families in our area, influencing the traditions of music making in Floyd County. This exhibit was one part of the 2015 Crooked Road Mountains of Music Homecoming, a series of special events all along Virginia’s Crooked Road music trail from June 12-20. The exhibit remained on display at the Gallery until November of that year.

Featured here are some of the highlights from the 2015 exhibit.

Early photo of Akers family musicians, Harvey Akers (fiddle), Pearl Akers (autoharp), Andrew Akers (banjo)

Our music is a natural part of our lives from the cradle to the grave: from a lullaby quieting a crying babe to words of a gospel sung to admonish a child’s transgression / from fun, nonsensical tunes learned in school to ballads inspired by tragedy / from familiar songs joined in by all at Saturday night gatherings to a farmer’s rhythm helping him to “hoe the long row” / from joyous songs celebrating love and marriage to hymns offering consolation in times of grief.

Janet Slusher Keith

Floyd musicians Harvey Akers (fiddle), Pearl Akers (autoharp), Andrew Akers (banjo), children of Giles and Allie Wade Akers. Circa 1914 image courtesy of Janet Turner.

From the earliest times, people traveling into our region have brought their music with them. They may not have come to Floyd County carrying instruments but their melodies and lyrics traveled across the Atlantic and down the Valley of Virginia in the heads and hearts of the earliest German and Scots-Irish settlers. From the 1700s through the mid-twentieth century, people here learned music largely as the first settlers had, by listening and memorizing.

Click to read about Floyd County musician Ab Weddle and the Slusher-Weddle Band on a music exhibit poster

String music (as a form of entertainment) came to these mountains with the earliest Scots-Irish settlers; at the same time, a strong tradition of sacred music arose to comfort hard-working rural families. By the 1920s, churches were holding well-attended singing schools, and communities were holding fiddling conventions. Most of the county’s earliest musicians were known only in their families, their churches, and their local communities. By the 1920s, however, some Floyd County performers could be heard on radio stations in Roanoke and on vinyl records on phonograph machines. All of their songs and all of their stories are a significant part of the county’s history.

Listen to the lively “Florida Blues” tune here (click SoundCloud link) with Ab Weddle (fiddle), R. O. Slusher, Jr. (guitar), Bill Moran (banjo), George S. Slusher (guitar), recorded March 19, 1983. We believe that Ab Weddle made this recording.

Ab Weddle pictured with George Slusher. 1990
Floyd County musicians represented in this exhibit:  Alderman Family, Garry Collins, Sam Conner, Sam Conner and Dent Wimmer, Rosa Alderman Dehart, Floyd County Ramblers, Jake Gilly, Marvin Harlow, Carlton & Janice Harmon, Elder Golden Harris, Hosea Harris, Irene Harris, High Noon, Alonzo Newton Hylton, Coy Hylton, Randall Hylton, Korn Kutters [Willard Clower, Freeman Slusher, George Slusher, and Ivan Weddle], Stanley Lorton, Mitchell Family, Over the Hill Gang, Elam Pugh, Blind Alfred Reed, Dancin’ Dan Richards, Shelor Family, R.O. Slusher, Waldo Slusher, and Freeman Slusher, Garvin Sutphin, Max Thomas, Janet Turner, Upland Express, Max Wade, Ab Weddle, Ivan Weddle, Lester Weddle, Whitlock Family