Continuing the Country Roads Legacy: How Appalachian Music Impacts Local Culture

Aerial view of the Weverton Cliffs at sunset.

Nestled deep within the intricate landscapes, winding rivers, and majestic mountains that define the region, Appalachia has long been celebrated for its rich musical heritage. So much so it carved out its very own musical genre.

A tradition deeply rooted in the enduring spirit of generations of settlers who have shaped the nation’s history and continue to propel its future, “Mountain Music” emerged from a melting pot of cultures and influences.

What is Mountain Music?

While many genres of music have shaped our society, one in particular was born right here in West Virginia and continues to have a profound impact on our culture. This genre of music is  known as traditional Appalachian music, or “Mountain Music.”

Crafted by a diverse group of pioneers, Appalachian music has left an indelible mark on the broader musical landscape and stands as a testament to the steadfast creativity and resilience of the Appalachian spirit.

From ballads and bluegrass to gospel, folk, and rock, Appalachian music reflects the cultural heritage of people who settled in the Appalachian region, blending influences from European, African, Scottish, Irish, and Indigenous traditions. It features acoustic instruments like the banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin. The music tends to depict themes revolving around everyday life, love, nature, and the struggles faced by mountain communities.

This music was more than entertainment, it was a means to preserve tradition and pass down stories. Serving as a connection to the land, ancestors, and to one another, Appalachian music became a bridge between day-to-day life and generations past.

The Role of Appalachian Music in Education

Appalachian music offers a unique look into the history, geography, and societal dynamics of West Virginia both past and present. The generations of artists, storytellers, and musicians who continue contributing to this honored musical tradition foster a sense of identity and belonging among Appalachian communities. These diverse influences not only helped to shape our culture, but they remind us it’s something to be proud of.

There are numerous philanthropic organizations in West Virginia committed to preserving and promoting the state’s rich musical heritage in schools and communities across the state. Through initiatives such as archival projects, oral history collections, and preservation grants, these organizations work to document, celebrate, and share the diverse traditions of West Virginia to foster dialogue and create positive change.

By investing in music education and supporting these organizations throughout the state, we contribute to the social, cultural, and economic future of West Virginia and its surrounding communities. It offers students a multifaceted lens through which they can explore many subjects such as history, geography, environmental studies, literature, and language arts.

Musical Philanthropic Organizations in West Virginia

Embracing Appalachian music means embracing the diversity that makes West Virginia what it is today. By analyzing the themes and motifs present in its narratives, we gain a deeper appreciation for the region and the rugged grit and determination of those who call it home. 

Music can be a powerful tool for the economic development of the region, too, as it attracts tourists, supports local businesses, and showcases the cultural richness of West Virginia to the world.

Many organizations across the state are dedicated to promoting music throughout the region:

  1. The Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center: The Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center is a historic theater located in the heart of downtown Huntington, West Virginia. It is dedicated to providing artistic enrichment, community development, and programming for all ages. Long committed to promoting the appreciation and participation in all forms of art throughout West Virginia, the theater’s mission is one that both Brad and his wife, Alys, proudly support.

    In April 2024, Brad and Alys donated $1 million to restore The Keith-Albee to ensure that everyone, regardless of background, can enjoy access to this iconic community asset. Recognizing that the arts play an integral role in both the economic health and overall culture of the region, they continue to devote their time and efforts to the arts and music of Appalachia so it may continue to thrive throughout the state.
  2. West Virginia Division of Culture and History (WVDACH): The West Virginia Division of Culture and History supports music education initiatives and cultural programs throughout the state. Through grants and funding opportunities, it offers resources for schools, community organizations, and cultural institutions to promote traditional mountain music and preserve Appalachian heritage.

    Both musicians themselves (Brad plays the saxophone and guitar and Alys plays the alto saxophone), Brad and Alys’ work to advance art and music throughout the region is one they are truly passionate about. In a recent collaboration, the WVDACH announced a partnership with the Wing 2 Wing Foundation (Brad and Alys Smith’s philanthropic organization) and the Save The Music Foundation. Wing 2 Wing has contributed $280,000 to the WVDACH to strengthen its ongoing partnership with the Save The Music Foundation. This funding supports the continued efforts to rebuild instruments throughout middle schools across West Virginia. Over the next three years, this donation will benefit 14 additional middle schools in 10 West Virginia counties, ultimately reaching students in 55 counties across the state.
  3. The Augusta Heritage Center at Davis & Elkins College: Through partnerships with local musicians and cultural organizations, the Augusta Heritage Center offers immersive workshops and educational programs focused on Appalachian music and traditional crafts.
  4. West Virginia Music Hall of Fame: Through its educational programs and outreach efforts, the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame ensures that Appalachian music remains a vital component of music education across the state.

When we connect with the culture of Appalachia through its musical genre, we gain a stronger understanding and appreciation of what West Virginia truly has to offer and what is yet to come.

Empowering the Future of West Virginia

A proud West Virginian, Brad D. Smith reveres the region’s rich history, where the resilience of generations has forged a legacy of pioneering spirit and unwavering resolve. He understands the melodies of the pioneers whose songs still echo through time, which fuels his vision to elevate West Virginia into a beacon of pride for the nation, and that’s how the Wing 2 Wing Foundation was born.

By championing the Appalachian identity and reminding communities of their inherent worth, Brad and Alys created the foundation to foster entrepreneurship, preserve the natural beauty of Appalachia, and provide educational opportunities for those who live and work in the Mountain State.

West Virginia’s foundational role in shaping the nation’s strength is undeniable. Now, with the Wing 2 Wing Foundation, Brad D. Smith aims to embolden West Virginia’s communities to chart a course toward a brighter future, ensure that opportunities are accessible to all, and that the spirit of those who built this state and their contributions to it will be remembered and celebrated.

Learn more about how the Wing 2 Wing Foundation creates conditions for success through investing in education, entrepreneurship, and the environment.