In Association with the Smithsonian InstitutionBy Jennifer Estep
Bristol Herald Courier
February 2, 2000
Bristol's country and bluegrass music heritage is getting attention from some folks in Washington, D.C.
Birthplace of Country Music Alliance officials announced Tuesday that the organization has been approved as an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC
More than 100 people gathered in front of Sears in the Bristol Mall to hear the announcement and listen to live music performed by students from East Tennessee State University.
"I'm ecstatic," said Fred McClellan, past president of the BCMA and chairman of the outreach campaign. "If I can live this day over and over again, it won't be a bad day at all."
Through the affiliation, the Smithsonian will lend artifacts to the BCMA for display in the alliance's museum in the Bristol Mall, McClellan said.
The Smithsonian and BCMA will also collaborate on educational programs and traveling exhibitions, and the -BCMA could participate in the institution's folk-life festival in: 2003. The festival is held every year around July 4 in Washington, DC, according to Caret' Wilkins, senior government relations officer for the Smithsonian.
Wilkins said the partnership is special to her since she is from Big Stone Gap.
"I'm able to represent the institution and this region," she said. "They have this wonderful plan and an entire community behind them. If you think that people don't understand our culture, we're wrong. They understand it and they appreciate it. We just have to make sure they get back here to hear it."
The BCMA will become the second Smithsonian affiliate in the region. The Storytelling Foundation International in Jonesborough, Tenn. was approved as an affiliate of the Smithsonian in January.
The BCMA also announced the start of its outreach campaign, which will last at least three years.
"It's going to be designed to spread the message and also designed to raise funding," McClellan said.
The, BCMA's goal is to raise $500,000, McClellan said. The campaign is aimed at promoting awareness of country and bluegrass music, honoring artists for their work and recording the oral and visual histories of musicians.
"It's something that we can all be a part of," BCMA President Tim White said.
Several musicians were on hand to lend their support to the BCMA. Artists attending the news conference included Ralph Blizard, Janette Carter, Rita Carter Forrester, Bill Clifton, Larry Cordle, Brion Ford, Doyle Lawson, Mike Seeger and Tim Stafford.
Blizard is a traditional, old-time, long-bow fiddler. He and his band, the Southern Ramblers, played on WOPI radio and on WJHL and WKPT television stations into the early 1950s.
"I started, playing what was evolving out of the Appalachians," he said. "That's what we want to start remembering here. We need to remember the heritage and where we came from."
Carter and her daughter, Forrester, are members of the famous Carter family, widely regarded as the first family of country music. Carter has been continuing the family tradition for more, than 25 years with live, traditional music at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Va.
"I'm glad to be here," Carter said. "I'm very glad they're doing what they're doing. So many musicians come from here."
Carter received a standing ovation from the crowd. It wasn't the first one she's received.
"My Rita went to accept an award for me," Carter said. "She said `Mother, you got two standing ovations and you weren't even there'."
Clifton is a bluegrass musician who participated in the first bluegrass festival at Leaf Park in Luray, Va. in 1961.
Cordle is a native of eastern Kentucky who grew up with, country singer Ricky Skaggs. He has written songs for Garth Brooks, Diamond Rio, Kathy Mattea and George Strait.
"This music that I was raised up with I've always carried in my heart," he said. "The BCMA is dedicated to keeping this alive and letting people know what the real roots of this stuff are."
Brion Ford is the son of the late performer Tennessee Ernie Ford, a Bristol Tennessee native.
"This is very special to me," he said. "This is the hub of this kind of communication — music."
Lawson is involved with gospel bluegrass music and performs with his own group, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. He said he's traveled to all 50 states and 37 other countries.
"It's an honor to be here and be a part of the BCMA," he said. "I'm so proud and honored that God granted me the privilege of being born and raised right here in the greatest region in the world."
Seeger is a performer and folklorist. His band, the New Lost City Ramblers, was involved in the folk revival of the 1960s.
"It's a unique organization," he said. "I think you all have a wonderful, inclusive way of promoting the old-time and the bluegrass and the country styles of music."
Stafford has worked with Alison Krauss & Union Station and won a Grammy with the group in 1993. His current group is named Blue Highway.
"I'm really proud to be a member of the BCMA," he said. "The BCMA was founded to promote the musical heritage of the area, including the historic "Bristol Sessions." In 1998, the Twin City was officially designated as the birthplace of country music by the U.S. House arid Senate. The BCMA museum in the mall opened in March of 1999.
"It's been a combined effort of people that are not afraid to think, what if," McClellan said. "Today is just one more pinnacle before the next."