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Folklorist Joe Wilson Included in Smithsonian Magazine Story

As I browsed my September 2011 edition of the Smithsonian, the official journal published by the Smithsonian Institution in Wash-ington, D. C., I was pleased to find a story in which a native of Johnson County was included. I’m always interested in reading stories in magazines or books about anyone who is connected to Johnson County. In this case, the story in the magazine included a photo and information about my friend and classmate. Joe Wilson. He and I were members of the great Class of ’56. The Class of 1956 has scheduled a reunion for Friday and Saturday, September 9 and 10. I hope he can attend. Furthermore, I hope many of my classmates will attend the activities. After all, it’s our 55th.
The article in the Smithsonian was about the Old Time music of Southwest Virginia and those who play it. Several musicians, both individuals and groups, were mentioned in the article. Joe origi-nally from Trade, Tennessee, left Johnson County many years ago and carved out a highly successful career as a folklorist, becoming executive director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts. He retired from that position in 2004 and is now chairman of that organization. Joe and his wife Kathy moved from their home in Maryland to Fries, Virginia where he now is managing the Blue Ridge Music Center near Galax.
During Joe’s career he produced 42 large-scale music festivals in 11 states, 21 national tours by musicians and dancers, nine interna-tional tours that visited 33 nations and 131 LP and CD audio re-cordings of various forms of folk music. He directed many NCTA festivals, including the National Folk Festival, the nation’s oldest festival and the Lowell Folk Festival, the nation’s largest. During his career he also conducted NCTA musical tours to Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, Australia and Fiji.
Joe was honored in September of 2009 when the Library of Con-gress presented him with the “Living Legend” award for his life-long work in public folklore. Before that he received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. I am happy to have a copy of his book: A Guide to the Crooked Road. The book was published in 2006. It is an informative book on the musical heritage of a 253-mile stretch of highway across southeast Virginia that is in or crosses 10 counties. An added bo-nus of the book is that two CDs are included featuring old-time, bluegrass, Piedmont blues, Anglo-American ballads and Appala-chian gospel music that is still heard in venues small and large along the crooked road.
Having been away from this area for a long time and with all his accomplishments, Joe is still a down-to-earth person who hasn’t forgotten his roots in Trade, Tennessee right here in Johnson County.