Caitlin Tan Published

W.Va. Old-Time Musician Receives National Recognition


An old-time musician from Clay County has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts’ fellowship — the first West Virginian in 20 years to receive the honor.

John Morris has been named one of nine NEA National Heritage Fellows. According to a press release, it is the highest honor in the United States for folk and traditional arts. 

Morris is a lifelong West Virginian who is an acclaimed fiddler, guitarist, banjo player and songwriter. He was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2016. 

In 2018, Morris served as a master old-time fiddler and storyteller as part of the West Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program. He was able to pass down his knowledge to Jen Iskow of Thomas, West Virginia.

“John has dedicated his life to sustaining, promoting and supporting the musical tradition of his Clay County community,” said Emily Hilliard, West Virginia Humanities Council state folklorist, “through the founding and hosting of community-based festivals, his labor and environmental activism, regular performances and his ongoing commitment to teaching younger practitioners. His playing is infused with all the sounds of Clay County — its environment, its history and its people.”

Hilliard nominated Morris for the fellowship, which is a lifetime honor that includes an award of $25,000, with the goal of passing cultural traditions to the future generations. 

The last West Virginian to receive the NEA fellowship was B. Dorothy Thompson, a weaver from Davis.