Jazz Author Now Writing From the Hills of WV

Oct 22, 2012

Seventy-eight year old Royal Stokes was born in Washington, DC, grew up alongside the Chesapeake Bay, but now calls the mountains of West Virginia home.

  Following a distinguished academic career, Stokes hosted his own jazz program on public radio and wrote about jazz for The Washington Post.  He's written three books about jazz. His third book, entitled "Growing Up with Jazz" has just been released in paperback.  

Over the years Stokes has interviewed more than a thousand jazz musicians including bass player Leonard Gaskin, drummer and bandleader, Art Blakey, pianist Billy Taylor, and several overlooked women jazz artists. 

Stokes says his interest in jazz started at age 12 when his older brother enlisted into the Navy during WWII.

“When he left, of course I had to explore that bedroom,” said Stokes. “I found his boogie- woogie records and put them on his turntable and I was blown away by these sounds.”

Stokes says he was wowed by pioneer boogie-woogie pianists Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson.

“I began to spend my newspaper route money and allowance on 78 rpm jazz, boogie-woogie and blues records, until, by my mid-teens, I had amassed a collection of 500 or so 78 rpm’s, which was quite a handsome collection for a youngster in those days.”

Stokes continued to listen to jazz over the years. In 1970 he retired from a career as a professor of Greek and Latin languages and literature.

“And I became a jazz radio programmer and a jazz writer, going back to my first love – which was of course jazz,” said Stokes.

About 4 years ago Stokes’ wife Erika was about to retire and so the couple started looking for a “retirement community.” Stokes says they visited several areas, but kept coming back to Elkins.

“First of all, we loved West Virginia, the beauty of it. And we were attracted by Davis and Elkins College, by the very active arts scene here and just by the general ambiance of the town.”  

Stokes is working on his fourth book about jazz artists as well as a memoir of his life.

2015 Update:  85-year-old Stokes recently published his first work of fiction – Backwards Over.  You can find out more about Stokes at http://www.wroyalstokes.com/