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McDowell County man receives 2004 Vandalia Award

The Vandalia Award, West Virginia’s highest folklife honor, was presented to guitarist, singer and songwriter Carl Rutherford of War this evening as part of the 28th annual Vandalia Gathering. The award was given to Rutherford during a ceremony and concert in the West Virginia State Theater of the Cultural Center.

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History presents the Vandalia Award annually to a West Virginian who has made outstanding contributions to the continuation of the state’s folk heritage. The award recognizes lifetime achievement in the performance, creation or perpetuation of West Virginia traditional arts. The Vandalia Gathering, an annual three-day festival of traditional arts and folk heritage, is celebrated Memorial Day weekend at the Cultural Center and State Capitol grounds in Charleston. More than 40,000 people attend the three-day festival each year.

Rutherford was born in 1929 in War and can trace his family’s roots in McDowell County back to the 1890s. At the age of 18, he went to work in the coal mines and was deeply moved by the determination, suffering and hardship he witnessed under ground.

Rutherford preserves a unique and challenging style of guitar playing passed down within his family and community. His blend of mountain blues, old-time, big band, country, honky-tonk, and gospel music styles are reminiscent of the music heard in the southern coalfields during the 1920s. He also is an award-winning songwriter whose distinctive compositions are about themes familiar to West Virginians: coal mining, faith, romance and his mountain home.

Rutherford has generously shared his music with others through workshops and performances throughout the state and across the country. He also promotes traditional music and community involvement as the founder of the McDowell County Mountain Music Association and a member of the board of directors of Big Creek People in Action.

Rutherford has been a regular performer at the Vandalia Gathering, the West Virginia State Folk Festival in Glenville, the Appalachian String Band Music Festival in Clifftop, the Augusta Festival in Elkins and the Stonewall Jackson Jubilee at Jackson’s Mill. He was featured in an article in the fall 1994 issue of the Division’s GOLDENSEAL magazine.

Rutherford is the 24th recipient of the Vandalia Award. Last year, Mack Samples of Duck was honored.

For more information about the Vandalia Award or the Vandalia Gathering, call (304) 558-0220. The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. Visit the Division’s website at for more information about the Vandalia Gathering and other programs of the Division. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.

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Ginny Painter
Director of Public Information
West Virginia Division of Culture and History
The Cultural Center
1900 Kanawha Blvd., East
Charleston, WV 25305
Phone (304) 558-0220, ext. 120
Fax (304) 558-2779