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Roane County musician receives state’s highest folklife award

The Vandalia Award, West Virginia’s highest folklife honor, was presented to musician Bob Kessinger of Harmony this evening as part of the 26th annual Vandalia Gathering. The award was given to Kessinger, who plays the mandolin and several other musical instruments, 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 on 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.

A native West Virginian from a family that includes a long line of talented musicians, Kessinger has won numerous awards at competitions and festivals around the state for his artistry on the mandolin. The nephew of famed fiddler Clark Kessinger, he is an outspoken advocate for the preservation and promotion of traditional music and culture.

Kessinger was born in 1926 and grew up listening to his father and uncle play music. He learned to play the banjo and mandolin at an early age.

After serving in World War II, he went to work at the FMC plant in South Charleston and played local radio shows with The Mountain Melody Boys. In 1955, he became a minister in the Church of Christ, serving churches in six states over the next 10 years.

His sons Robin and Dan have followed in his footsteps. Robin, a professional musician and the 1985 national flat-pick champion, and Dan, one of the state’s finest fiddlers, perform and record with their father as The Kessingers. The musical Kessinger family was featured in an article in the fall 1997 issue of the Division’s GOLDENSEAL magazine.

Kessinger is the 22nd recipient of the Vandalia Award. Last year, Vandalia Gathering founder Norman Fagan of Red House 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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