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"Raised Really Tough"
The Life and Music of the Bing Brothers

By John Lilly
Photographs by Tyler Evert

The Bing Brothers band at Camp Washington Carver in the mid-1990's. Dave Bing (fiddle), Tim Bing (banjo), Mike Bing (mandolin), John Blisard (bass), and Danny Arthur (guitar). Photograph by Michael Keller.

Mike, Dave, and Tim Bing are among the most formidable and respected old-time musicians in West Virginia. Collectively as the Bing Brothers Band, and individually, they have performed, competed, taught, and promoted their brand of hard-driving old-time and bluegrass music to enthusiastic audiences across the state, the region, and around the globe.

How these three self-taught musicians came to travel the world representing the musical heritage of their home state is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps it is an argument for providence or predestination. Simply put, the Bings discovered the joy of traditional music as young men and let the music take its natural course.

Traditional music was present on both sides of the Bing family tree. The brothers’ mother, Willodean Merritt Bing, now in her 80’s, was an especially strong influence and their biggest fan, as she continues to be. The boys’ father, Donald Ray Bing, died in 2000. Though not a musician himself, Donald was also a great follower of the Bing brothers and their music.

Willodean’s mother, Florida Merritt, died in childbirth when Willodean was five years old. Following his wife’s death, her widower, Willie Merritt, moved his family from Beech Fork, Wayne County, to Logan, where he took work as a miner. The situation there was not suitable for raising children, however, so Willodean and her siblings moved back to Wayne County, where they were raised by their grandparents, Susie and “Preacher” Paris Adkins.

The Adkins family lived on a 265-acre farm and shared a large, two-story farmhouse. Willodean recalls that there were as many as 22 people living in the farmhouse at one time. They raised all their own food and lived close to the land. According to Willodean, they didn’t notice the Great Depression, because life seemed unchanged on their remote but productive family farm.

Music was a part of this household, as Willodean, her brother Buddy, and sister Hope all sang and played instruments, as did several of their Adkins relatives. Willodean recalls her grandfather reading his bible aloud and singing hymns in the early morning on the big wrap-around porch of the farmhouse. Other relatives would also play and sing on occasion, sharing old country and bluegrass songs.

When Willodean was 19, she married Donald Bing, from East Lynn, Wayne County. An aspiring journalist, Donald took a job as a pressman for the Huntington newspapers. The couple bought a home three miles from town on State Route 10 in Cabell County.

Donald and Willodean had three boys: Mike born in 1951, Dave born in 1955, and Tim born in 1958. During the summer months, the boys spent time at the old Adkins farm, where they were exposed to a rural way of life, farm work, and traditional music.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.