West Virginia Music Hall of Fame announces inductees

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Music Hall of Fame has announced the inductees of the 2020 class.

They are Ethel Caffie-Austin, Sonny & Honey Davis, Larry Groce, The Hammons Family and Mayf Nutter. The induction ceremony will be held April 4, 2020, in the Culture Center Theater in Charleston.

The Hammons Family came from Kentucky before the Civil War, mostly settling in Pocahontas and Randolph counties. They were among the finest musicians in the mountains, playing and singing an ancient repertoire and holding to a nearly lost style of playing.

Edden Hammons was considered to be the best fiddler in the family. He was recorded in 1947 by West Virginia University professor Louis Chappell and appeared in a World War II-era newsreel, fiddling for President Roosevelt at The Greenbrier hotel.

Wider recognition came in the 1970s when neighbor and local musician Dwight Diller became acquainted with the Hammonses and began a long and thorough examination of the family, its history and its music.

Born in Dallas, Groce moved to Phillipi in Barbour County in 1972 when he was a musician-in-residence for Barbour, Tucker and Randolph counties. Since then, Groce has had a profound impact on music and the arts in his adopted state, co-founding the NPR show “Mountain Stage” in 1983 and as the director of Charleston’s music, art and dance celebration, FestivALL.

In 1976, his satirical novelty song “Junk Food Junkie” charted in the Top 10. The song was sung by a young Michael Jackson on his family’s TV show in the 1970s and led to appearances on “The Tonight Show,” “The Merv Griffin Show,” “American Bandstand” and “Midnight Special.”

Mayf Nutter was born in 1941 in Jane Lew in Lewis County to a musical family. He first appeared on radio at age 12. Just out of high school, Nutter was the guitarist for Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame member Del Shannon. Later, he was the leader and front man for The New Christy Minstrels, whose alumni includes Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes.

During the early ’70s, Nutter guested on Buck Owens’s TV Ranch 56 times. He also appeared on television shows like “The Waltons,” “Falcon Crest,” “Knots Landing” and “The Fall Guy.” Nutter played three different characters on “Days of Our Lives,” won a Best Actor award for the TV series “Lone Star Bar,” narrated a few Disney films and starred opposite James Stewart in the CBS-TV Series “Hawkins on Murder.”

Ethel Caffie-Austin, born 1949 in Bluefield, is known as West Virginia’s First Lady of Gospel Music. She began playing piano at the age of 6, started accompanying church services at 9 and directed her first choir at age 11. Ethel is a graduate of West Virginia Institute of Technology, earning a bachelor’s of arts in language arts.

Caffie-Austin is also in demand as a clinician and often presents gospel workshops in conjunction with the Vandalia Gathering. She founded the Black Sacred Music Festival at West Virginia State University in Institute and has several recordings and instructional videotapes to her credit.

She was the subject of the 1999 documentary film entitled His Eye is on the Sparrow and a 1997 Goldenseal magazine article, “Hand-Clapping and Hallelujahs: A Visit with Ethel Caffie-Austin.”

In 2010, she contributed a song to The Harry Smith Connection, “A Live Tribute to the Anthology of American Folk Music.”

Sonny and Honey Davis, the Davis Twins, were born in 1926 in New Lexington, Ohio. With mandolin, guitar and close sibling harmonies, the brother-sister duo began its career at age 12 after winning the Ohio State Fair Amateur Contest in 1938. They were recruited by the WWVA Jamboree, but their parents felt they were too young.

Two years later, at 14, they moved to Wheeling, accompanied by their mother, to join the WWVA Jamboree.

After making their radio debut on WWVA in 1940, they moved to Fairmont where they played with Grandpa Jones at the Sagebrush Roundup. After stints on WKBN in Youngstown and KTBS in Shreveport, La., they moved to Charleston where they performed on WTIP with Honey’s husband, well known musician Sleepy Jeffers.

Sonny was also a popular disc jockey on Charleston station WCHS and Logan station WVOW and was the first DJ on St. Albans station WKLC.

The Davis Twins released three 45s, and their late 1960s release, “Pretending is a Game,” has been included on at least five rockabilly compilations. At one point they had their own fan club and were receiving close to 7,000 pieces of mail in a single day. Within one year, they were the No. 2 duo in the country.

In the early 1960s, Honey and Sonny became regulars on a live daily morning television show at WCHS-TV in Charleston.

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