Ferrum News

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 “Teenage Party.”

“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 www.blueridgeinstitute.org.

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.