Skip Navigation

Special Music Edition
Films about West Virginia and Appalachia

By Steve Fesenmaier

Each year, GOLDENSEAL highlights films, videos, and DVD’s about our state and region in our annual film list. Many of these movies are about music, and many of these musicians or musical activities have also been featured in GOLDENSEAL over the years. This special edition of Steve Fesenmaier’s annual film list offers a sampling of GOLDENSEAL story subjects that have also been film subjects. In print and in film, they help tell the story of Appalachia and its music. Note: Some of these films are no longer available for purchase, but many are held in the collections of the West Virginia Library Commission (WVLC). Call (304)558-2045 for availability.–ed.

Vandalia: The Tradition Continues

1996 - VHS - 60 mins. - Elderberry Productions

The Mountain State's colorful heritage has been celebrated at the Vandalia Gathering since 1977, held in Charleston each Memorial Day weekend. [See “Vandalia Time!”; Spring 2011.] This video offers a sampler of the festival's best. Watch as talented dancers, musicians, craftspeople, and storytellers turn the beautiful Capitol Complex into a bustling showcase. Fiddle, banjo, and dulcimer players compete for ribbons and prizes and for the satisfaction of being first among the very best practitioners of America's oldest music. Visitors of all ages stroll among performances and lively demonstrations, taking in the sights and sounds and being tempted by hearty foods from several traditions. The focus is on the bedrock Appalachian folk culture and the ancient ethnic customs that enrich it in West Virginia.
Access: WVLC

Morris Family Old-Time Music Festival

1972 - VHS/16mm - 30 mins. - Omni Productions

David Morris. Photograph by Mike Meador.

Dave and John Morris held their own music festival at Ivydale, Clay County, from 1969 to 1972. [See “Ivydale: The Morris Family Old-Time Music Festivals,” by Bob Heyer; Summer 1998.] The festival was known for its traditional music, good times, and heavy rain. West Virginia filmmaker Bob Gates filmed the last festival in exquisite black-and-white photography. Sight and sound are fused to recreate the happy time everyone had in spite of the downpour.
Access: WVLC

Building a Cello with Harold

1995 - VHS/16mm - 105 mins. - Bob Gates

Harold Hayslett. Photograph by Kamrooz Sanii.

West Virginia native and South Charleston resident Harold Hayslett is a noted builder of violins and cellos. [See “Musical Wood: Violin Maker Harold Hayslett,” by Paul Gartner; Spring 2007.] In this feature-length documentary film, we follow the building of a cello from start to finish. We learn of Harold's understanding of wood and the woods as we search for the illusive "curly" maple tree. As the cello takes shape in his workshop, we get to know Harold and understand his Appalachian inventiveness and craftsmanship, as well as his thorough knowledge of the instruments and lore of Stradivarius. Ultimately, the cello and some of Harold's violins are taken to the rare instrument collection in the Library of Congress to see how they stand up to those of the old masters. 
Access: WVLC

Catching Up With Yesterday

1990 - 16mm - 28 mins. - Facets Multimedia

Andrew F. Boarman. Photograph by Dick Kimmel.

Andrew F. Boarman, a 78-year-old West Virginia instrument maker and musician, is featured in this documentary portrait. In addition to featuring a number of lively musical performances, the film illustrates Boarman's skills as a master craftsman of banjos, guitars, fiddles, and dulcimers. Interviews with Boarman provide a historical and regional context for the life and work of this leading representative of Appalachian culture and folk traditions. [See “Andrew F. Boarman, the Banjo Man from Berkeley County,” by Peggy Jarvis and Dick Kimmel; January-March 1979.]
Access: WVLC or

Bernard Cyrus: Ancient Sounds and Wild Orchids

2008 - DVD - 74 mins. - Augusta Heritage Productions

Bernard Cyrus. Photograph by Michael Keller.

Bernard Cyrus lives in Wayne County. A talented musician, instrument maker, hunter, gardener, and tale teller, he is also an avid botanist and photographer. [See “The Natural World of Bernard Cyrus,” by Gerald Milnes; Spring 2009.] "Ancient Sounds" is a term Bernard uses to describe the music he plays on dulcimer and banjo. He also loves wild orchids and has taken countless photographs of these and many other wonders across West Virginia. Gerald Milnes, 2006 West Virginia Filmmaker of the Year, continues his documentation of the state’s many talented musicians.
Access: Augusta Heritage Center

One More Time: The Life and Music of Melvin Wine

2004 - DVD/CD-ROM - Augusta Heritage Center

Melvin Wine. Photograph by Michael Keller.

Melvin Wine was born in 1909 and buried in 2003 at the mouth of Stouts Run, a hollow near Burnsville, in northern Braxton County. Hundreds of fiddlers learned about old-time mountain music from him during his 94 years. [See “Melvin Wine,” by Susan Leffler; Summer 1991.] In 1991 he was honored as a National Heritage Fellow. Gerald Milnes and Margo Blevin worked on this project for several years, resulting in a total of four films. This interactive CD-ROM contains many tunes, stories, photos, and biographical information. There is also instructional content where a tune can be slowed down or stopped to allow the viewer to study Melvin’s playing and bowing techniques.
Access: Augusta Heritage Center

That Old-Time Sound

2005 - DVD - 60 mins. - Augusta Heritage Center

Lester and Linda McCumbers. Photograph by Michael Keller.

Gerry Milnes presents a varied look at the music, musicians, and folkways of Calhoun, Clay, Braxton, and Gilmer counties. Lester and Linda McCumbers are featured throughout the film in performance and interviews. [See “Satisfaction in My Heart: Lester and Linda McCumbers of Calhoun County,” by Kim Johnson; Spring 2004.] Also featured are Phoebe Parsons, Noah Cotrell, and others. Dancing, coon hunting, and archival footage from the 1973 West Virginia State Folk Festival at Glenville are also shown.
Access: Augusta Heritage Center

His Eye Is On the Sparrow

1999 - VHS - 28 mins. - Appalshop

Ethel Caffie-Austin. Photograph by Michael Keller.

Appalshop filmmaker Ann Lewis made this film about West Virginia native Ethel Caffie-Austin, a daughter of the coalfields known as West Virginia’s “First Lady of Gospel Music.” [See “Hand-Clapping and Hallelujahs: A Visit with Ethel Caffie-Austin,” by Michael Kline; Winter 1997.] This program features Ethel performing a range of spirituals, hymns, and contemporary gospel numbers that represent the rich cultural heritage of African American song and worship. Ethel’s enthusiasm and belief in the redemptive power of faith are apparent as she is seen teaching gospel music to a youth group, ministering to inmates at a state prison, and leading the choir at the Black Sacred Music Festival. Oral history, archival material, and interviews are combined with performance footage to tell a powerful story of personal freedom and triumph through faith, wisdom, and the support of a caring community.
Access: Appalshop

Hazel Dickens: It's Hard to Tell the Singer from the Song

2001 - DVD/VHS - 55 mins. - Appalshop

Hazel Dickens. Photographer unknown.

From the coalfields of West Virginia to the factories of Baltimore, Hazel Dickens lived the songs she sang. A pioneering woman in bluegrass and traditional country music, Hazel influenced generations of songwriters and musicians. Her songs of hard work, hard times, and hearty souls have bolstered working people at picket lines and union rallies throughout the land. Her powerful, piercing vocals are included in the soundtracks for 11 movies, including Harlan County USA and Matewan. In 2001 the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Hazel a National Heritage Fellowship. [See “West Virginia, My Home”: A Visit with Hazel Dickens,” by John Lilly; Summer 2004.]  In this intimate portrait, interviews with Hazel and fellow musicians such as Alison Krauss, Naomi Judd, and Dudley Connell are interwoven with archival footage, recent performances, and 16 powerful songs.
Access: Appalshop

Coal Camp Blues, Coalfield Struggle

2003 - VHS - 55 mins. - Jim McGee

Carl Rutherford. Photograph by Michael Keller.

Jim McGee made this film about his mentor, Carl Rutherford, a well-known coalfield musician and activist. Carl was involved with the McDowell County grassroots group Big Creek People in Action (BCPIA). As a musician Carl was known as a fine guitarist and singer, writing his own songs about coal mines and the hard life he led. Archival footage and historical photographs are used to illustrate Carl’s songs. [See “Carl Rutherford: Music from the Coalfields,” by Jim McGee; Fall 1994.]
Access: West Virginia Humanities Council

Friendly Neighbor Show: Christmas 2005

2005 - VHS - 60 mins. - George Daugherty

Wallace Horn. Photograph by Michael Keller.

Wallace Horn of Chapmanville began recording and broadcasting his own radio show in 1967. [See “Pure Entertainment: Wallace Horn and the Friendly Neighbor Show,” by Carolyn Harmon; Spring 2009.] He initially used his television repair store as his studio, later broadcasting from local garages, schoolhouses, or community centers. Most of the guests are local musicians, but others such as Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and the Foggy Mountain Boys have performed, as well. Elaine Purkey, a well-known local singer and songwriter, has performed on the show for 30 years. [See “’One Day More’: Activist Songwriter Elaine Purkey,” by Paul Gartner; Summer 2006.]
Access: WV State Archives

Clifftop 2008

2008 - YouTube clip - 26:51 - WVPBS

Appalachian String Band Festival. Photograph by Michael Keller.

The Appalachian String Band Music Festival takes place the first week of August each year at Camp Washington Carver in Fayette County, drawing thousands of musicians from across the country and around the world. Commonly known as “Clifftop,” the festival has emerged as the premier gathering for fans and players of traditional and not-so-traditional old-time music. [See “Open Arms at Clifftop: 20th Appalachian String Band Music Festival,” by John Lilly; Summer 2009.] West Virginia Public Broadcasting produced this half-hour documentary in 2008, featuring a close-up view of the music, laughter, dancing, and camaraderie found at this unique festival. This film has logged more than 25,000 views on You Tube.
Access: YouTube - search for “Clifftop 2008 [1/2 hour Documentary].”

Blind Alfred Reed

2010 - Television broadcast - 25 mins. - WVPBS

Blind Alfred Reed was one of West Virginia’s first nationally recognized singers or musicians. [See “The Blind Man’s Song: Recalling Alfred Reed,” by John Lilly; Winter 2008.] Starting in 1927, his recordings and original songs were distributed widely. Today few are familiar with this visually impaired Hinton resident who supported his family using his musical skills, yet his songs have been recorded by Bruce Springsteen, Ry Cooder, and the New Lost City Ramblers, among others. This film was made by veteran West Virginia Public Broadcasting director and producer John Nakashima in conjunction with the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. GOLDENSEAL editor, John Lilly, narrates this film while musicians Tim O’Brien, Kathy Mattea, Larry Groce, Michael Lipton, and others perform and comment on the importance and legacy of Reed’s music. 
Access: WVPBS, for broadcast only