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Fostering one of the more diverse music scenes of any county in Southwest Virginia, Smyth County was the homeplace of master musicians working in several traditional music genres, including a cappella ballad singing (Saltville’s Texas Gladden and Marion’s Horton Barker and John M. “Sailor Dad” Hunt were nationally known) and old-time music (especially multi-instrumentalist Hobart Smith, from Saltville; banjo-player Jack Reedy, from Seven Mile Ford; and guitarist Ed Blevins and fiddler Frank Blevins, who were brothers from Marion).
Bluegrass musicians from Smyth County include the influential singer-guitarist Bill Harrell, singer-mandolinist William Harold “Bill” Lowe, and banjo-player Carson Cooper–all from Marion–as well as dobro-player Travis Houck, from Chilhowie.
Other notable Smyth County musicians are two women associated with Marion–Laura Lu Scherer Copenhaver (a leading hymn composer) and Annabelle Morris Buchanan (classical music composer and folk music promoter)–and Chilhowhie’s Phyllis Heil, “the Whistling Lady.”
Also from Smyth are musicians active in such contemporary vernacular music genres as country (pedal steel guitarist Garland Nash, from Marion), Southern gospel music (singer Steve Warren, from Saltville), and rock (singer-keyboardist Chris Marion, from Chilhowie). Two legendary disc jockeys were likewise from Smyth: Saltville’s King Edward Smith and Marion’s Therl Edward “Zeke” Leonard.
In recent years, Marion has received widespread attention for hosting two popular venues: the Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Arts (named in honor of acclaimed luthier and guitarist Wayne Henderson, of nearby Grayson County) and the historic Lincoln Theatre, which since 2005 has featured the nationally televised concert series “Song of the Mountains.”
Smyth County was also the last home to the groundbreaking literary figure Sherwood Anderson, who moved to Marion at the height of his fame. Anderson continued to write from his new home-base while publishing local newspapers, and he married Marion-native Eleanor Copenhaver, who was a nationally prominent labor organizer and the daughter of Laura Lu Scherer Copenhaver.
Research by Ted Olson