1950s Rockabilly Makes Virginia History in New Exhibition at Blue Ridge Institute
& Museum at Ferrum College
Elvis Presley may (or may not) be dead, but he and a host of early rock ‘n’ rollers
live on in Virginia Rocks: The History of Rockabilly in the Commonwealth, now on display
at the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum at Ferrum College. Rockabilly grabbed the nation
by the ears in the early 1950s and kept shaking for nearly a decade. Over 60 Virginia
artists cut rockabilly records, and Virginia Rocks puts them and the King himself
in a new spotlight. Virginia Rocks runs through March 2010. Admission is free.
At its best, rockabilly was powered by a dynamic lead singer, driving bass, sharp
guitar licks, catchy teen lyrics, and wild stage action. Virginia Rocks: The History
of Rockabilly in the Commonwealth combines vintage video, hundreds of photographs,
guitars, stage costumes, and other memorabilia to showcase dozens of Virginians who
stirred up the country-boogie in recording studios and on stage.
Selling millions of records, Norfolk’s Gene Vincent challenged Elvis on the pop charts,
but musicians from all over Virginia also played rockabilly. Country star Roy Clark
(Lunenburg County), bluegrass great Mac Wiseman (Augusta County), state delegate Clint
Miller (Woodstock), and even Vegas’ Wayne Newton (Roanoke) all embraced the style.
RCA Records billed Janis Martin (Halifax) as the Female Elvis, and “Whole Lotta Shakin’
Goin’ On” was written by Roy Hall (Wise County).
The country music scene—especially live radio shows and dance halls—was the original
home of rockabilly. Virginia Rocks: The History of Rockabilly in the Commonwealth
follows the music from radio barn dances and travelling jamborees to high school sock
hops and televised teen dance shows such as Roanoke’s “Top Ten Dance Party” and Richmond’s
“Virginia rockers from the ‘50s, such as Gene Vincent and Link Wray, have been praised
by the likes of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Jimmy Page, and Neil Young,” said Roddy Moore,
Director of the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum. “Virginia Rocks is the first exhibition
to explore the state’s place in rock ‘n’ roll history.”
Funded in part by a grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, Virginia
Rocks: The History of Rockabilly in the Commonwealth runs through the spring of 2010
at the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum. The exhibition is complemented by a double CD
set and a gallery guide. The annual Blue Ridge Folklife Festival (October 24, 2009)
will feature a rockabilly reunion with a sock hop.
Located on the campus of Ferrum College, the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum is open
Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., year-round; and Sundays, 1 to 4:30
p.m., mid-May through mid-August. For more information call 540-365-4416 or visit
Ferrum College is a four-year, private, co-educational, liberal arts college affiliated
with the United Methodist Church. Ferrum offers a choice of nationally recognized
bachelor's degree programs at a cost well below the national average for private colleges.
For more information on Ferrum, visit www.ferrum.edu.