Q: What about the story of Maceo Pinkard of Bluefield, who gave us that familiar Harlem Globetrotters theme song?
A: Probably his most famous song is "Sweet Georgia Brown." He also wrote a lot of songs -- "Throw Me A Kiss," "Them There Eyes." He was also the first African-American to own a music publishing house in the United States. When Duke Ellington went to break into music, he went to New York and sought out Maceo Pinkard because Pinkard was the most successful black songwriter of the era. Showed him the ropes, took him to Tin Pan Alley. Then, when Ellington became famous he returned the favor by recording a lot of Pinkard's songs.
Q: If you had to sum up the hall of fame's mission, aside from showcasing the best talent, are you also aiming to broaden people's associations about West Virginia?
A: For me, personally, that's one of the main things I really want to do. Not to take anything away from the traditional music -- the country music, the gospel music. But people are very much more familiar with that part of West Virginia music than they are the jazz, the opera, rock 'n' roll, blues.
There's a rich history of that especially when you get to Southern West Virginia, where people from other nationalities and ethnic groups came to work in the mines. Or up in the Northern Panhandle, where again people from different ethnic backgrounds came to work in the steel mills.
Q: You've also highlighted Bill Withers' state connections. What is the significance of him as a singer-songwriter?
A: There's certainly a lot of people who weren't aware that Bill Withers was from here. The easiest way to do that is just to kind of point to how his music has almost had a resurgence. If you listen to "Use Me" and some of the other stuff he's done, it's still being sampled, it's still being redone.
We have a traveling museum that goes to schools and we see mainly fourth-graders. And of everyone who's represented in the trailer, just about every kid knows "Lean on Me." And that's quite something.
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at doug...@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.