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Vandalia Award 2000

Banjo player Brooks Smith is the proud recipient of the 2000 Vandalia Award, presented to him on Saturday evening, May 28, during the annual Vandalia Gathering at the Capitol Complex. The prestigious award is given by the Division of Culture and History to one individual each year, recognizing a lifetime of contribution to West Virginia's traditional folk arts; Brooks is the recipient of the 20th Vandalia Award.

Born in Jackson County on April 3, 1923, Brooks grew up in Kanawha County and is a lifelong resident of West Virginia. He was the subject of a feature story in GOLDENSEAL in Spring 1996, "Brooks Smith: The Making of a Banjo Player," interview by Andrew Dunlap.

In the story, Brooks talks about carrying his banjo under his arm as he walked over Goff Mountain to take lessons as a 12-year-old boy. He later joined with other Kanawha Valley musicians to play for dances and various local functions. He performed on WCHS radio in Charleston, as well as WKNA as a member of the Happy Valley Ramblers during the late 1940's.

Brooks Smith
Brooks Smith. Photo by Michael Keller

Brooks was drawn to both popular and traditional music and developed a versatile banjo style which makes him unique among most old-time musicians. He is capable of playing hard-driving dance tunes, such as "Mississippi Sawyer" or "Walkin' In My Sleep," with the best of them; he is equally at ease playing subtle back-up or imaginative chords to accompany a slow waltz or an old song.

This mastery of the banjo has enabled Brooks to play with many skilled musicians through the years. It has also earned him a generous collection of prizes, awards, and ribbons from West Virginia musical gatherings. He took first place in the Vandalia Gathering's over-60 banjo contest in 1986, and has been a finalist in that competition every year since, winning the contest a total of three times.

Brooks has also attracted the attention of many younger musicians. He has taken a number of them under his wing as students, producing some of the finest next-generation banjo players in the state including Kim Johnson and Andrew Dunlap.

Aside from his musical prowess, Brooks has been a credit to his family and community in many other areas of his life. He served in the armed forces and was awarded the Purple Heart for his sacrifices in France during World War II. He later enjoyed a long career as a draftsman with Union Carbide in South Charleston.

Brooks married the former Westine Miller from Dunbar in 1945, and they raised three children: Doug Smith of Cross Lanes, Dwain Smith of Dunbar, and Debbie Smith Dawson of Cross Lanes. Today, Brooks and Westine have seven grandchildren and one great-grandson.

GOLDENSEAL congratulates Brooks on receiving this year's Vandalia Award!

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