David Morris, 1944-2016 • John Morris, born 1946
Ivydale, Clay County
Born in Ivydale, Clay County, into a family steeped in traditional music, David and John Morris learned from family and neighbors that included banjo player Jenes Cottrell and fiddler French Carpenter. After David returned from Vietnam in 1968, the brothers began organizing musical get-togethers, and in 1969, held the first Morris Family Old-Time Musical Festival. The festival became a major traditional music event in Clay County and filmmaker Bob Gates documented the 1972 festival in his film The Morris Family Old-Time Music Festival.
Members of The Morris Brothers band included Pocahontas County old-time banjo player Dwight Diller and the late North Carolina harmonica player John Martin. Playing a mix of old-time, bluegrass, and country styles, including some of David’s original music, the group played together through the mid-’70s, releasing an LP in the late ’60s, Music As We Learned It, and two live shows on eight-track tapes. John, a traditional fiddler, and David, a singer, songwriter and guitarist, were involved in union and environmental activities from the late 1960s through the 1970s. They were also instrumental in establishing the Vandalia Gathering at the Cultural Center in 1977.
The Morris Brothers music was featured in Barbara Kopple’s 1976 film Harlan County, USA. David, who passed away in 2016, contributed music to Koppe’s 2015 film about Vietnam vets, Shelter. John lives in Ivydale and plays fiddle at music events across West Virginia. He is a rich source of information about the history of old-time music in central West Virginia, and one of the few native fiddlers of his generation to continue the older style of play.