West Virginian John Morris Among 2020 Recipients of Nation’s Highest Honor in the Folk and Traditional Arts

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History, along with the West Virginia Humanities Council and Governor Jim Justice, is happy to announce that old-time musician John Morris of Ivydale, W.Va., has been selected as one of nine 2020 National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellows, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. These lifetime honor awards of $25,000 are given in recognition of both artistic excellence and efforts to sustain cultural traditions for future generations.

An acclaimed fiddler, banjo player, guitarist, songwriter, and life-long resident of Clay County, Morris is the living carrier of the old-time fiddle and banjo tradition particular to his rural home county and the surrounding area. Morris was nominated by West Virginia state folklorist Emily Hilliard through the West Virginia Folklife Program, a project of the West Virginia Humanities Council.

Morris is West Virginia’s first National Heritage Fellow in 20 years, the last being Appalachian weaver B. Dorothy Thompson, Tucker County, in 2000; Trinidadian Steel Pan builder and performer Elliott “Ellie” Mannette, Monongalia County, in 1999; and fiddler Melvin Wine, Braxton County, in 1991.

“On behalf of Governor Justice and the entire Department of Arts, Culture and History, we congratulate Mr. Morris on this award. It is so wonderful that this prestigious honor is being awarded to a West Virginian for the first time in 20 years,” WVDACH Curator Randall Reid-Smith said. “It demonstrates the continued importance of traditional and folk arts in the Mountain State and is a direct result of the continued investment in the arts made by the Justice Administration.”

The 2020 National Heritage Fellows also include soul singer-songwriter William Bell from Atlanta, Ga.; Armenian Folk and Liturgical Singer Onnik Dinkjian from Fort Lee, N.J.; West African Diasporic Dancers Zakarya and Naomi Diouf from Oakland, Calif.; Oneida Nation of Wisconsin Iroquois Raised Beadworker Karen Ann Hoffman from Stevens Point, Wis.; Traditional Religious Dancers Los Matachines de la Santa Cruz de la Ladrillera from Laredo, Texas; Nueva Canción Singer and Songwriter Suni Paz from Henderson, Nev.; Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe Birchbark Canoe Builder Wayne Valliere from Waaswaaganing (Lac du Flambeau, Wis.); and Radio Producer and Radio Network Hugo N. Morales from Fresno, Calif.

“Each year the Heritage Fellowships highlight the distinct living traditions of communities around our nation, as well as how our fellows instill a sense of pride, beauty, and cultural continuity through their art,” said Mary Anne Carter, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “The National Endowment for the Arts is pleased to recognize these outstanding artists with a National Heritage Fellowship.”

The annual celebration of the new class of National Heritage Fellows will take place virtually this year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. More information about this event, including the date, will be available at a later time.

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