Heritage Hall Theatre in Mountain City will hold a special tribute to Joe Wilson Saturday, Sept. 21.
Wilson, a Johnson County native and presently a resident of Fries, Va., has been a lifelong champion of his people and their music.
Wilson grew up in the Johnson County community of Trade, where his mother taught him to respect everyone, no matter their social or economic level. She did not approve of folks who made disparaging remarks about others, and she taught her son the golden rule by saying, “Put yourself in their shoes; they’ve got feelings.”
Wilson’s love of the music of the people first took him across the stateline to Macey Springs, Va., to see A.P. Carter, who tried to discourage the young devotee in his love for the music of the mountains. However, Wilson’s passion would not be extinguished, and he soon hitchhiked to Nashville, where he eventually met up with Marty Robbins and went on the road with the country star. This path led him to become the director for the National Council for the Traditional Arts, where traditional music would become the major focus of his life. Wilson’s impressive resume includes planning 42 music festivals, touring 33 countries with musicians on international tours and producing 131 albums of the music he loved.
Presently, Wilson lives on the New River in Grayson County, an area very similar to Johnson County, where members of his family still reside. He retired to the area close to the museum for which he spent 15 years raising funds and networking connections to get The Roots of American Music exhibit opened. The collection boasts many impressive artifacts and recordings most of which were donated from Wilson’s own private collection. This museum is truly Wilson’s creation. He not only raised the funding, networked the design and oversaw the construction, he also wrote the display copy and narrated the film clips.
Wilson, in an article by Ralph Berrier Jr. for the Roanoke Times in May 2011, is quoted saying, “This is a validation of my people. I love the people of this part of the country.”
He should. He’s one of them — the underdog champion.
This Saturday, Wilson’s people, including some of his teachers, his family, his classmates and local dignitaries, will gather at Heritage Hall Theatre in Mountain City at 7 p.m. to honor one of their own — the local boy who pursued his dream and lived his passion.
First they will gather for a reception in his honor, and then they will all enjoy a concert by one of his dearest friends, Wayne Henderson.