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With Longtime Association to the High Country, The Cockman Family Is Among Regional Musicians To Be Inducted into Blue Ridge Hall of Fame

With strong ties to the High Country, the Cockman Family will be inducted into the 2023 Blue Ridge Hall of Fame in Wilkesboro on March 25. Photo submitted.

By Sherrie Norris

Certainly, no strangers to the High Country, the multitalented musical group known as The Cockman Family is among several regional artists to be inducted into the 2023 Blue Ridge Hall of Fame. 

Hosted by The Wilkes Heritage Museum, the15th Annual Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will take place at the museum on Saturday, March 25 in  downtown Wilkesboro. 

In addition to The Cockman Family, others chosen for this prestigious inclusion include Tennessee native Doyle Lawson, L.W. Lambert, Willard Gayheart, Barry Poss, and  Benton Flippen.

Also recognized at the ceremony will be Donnie Story, recipient of the 2022 Dr. T. R. Bryan Wilkes County Heritage Music Award.

The Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame house band, Virginialina — comprised of the vastly talented David Johnson, Eric Ellis, Scott Gentry and Scott Freeman — is scheduled to perform throughout the evening event, along with The Cockman Family, Willard Gayheart, Donnie Story with Tin Can Alley, The Non Prophets and others.  

Art Menius, a 2008 Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame inductee, will serve as this year’s emcee.   

The Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame exists to showcase and preserve the rich musical heritage of the greater Blue Ridge Mountains area from northern Georgia to northern Virginia.  The organization defines and interprets the history of music in the region with exhibits, an annual celebration of inductees, recordings of performances and an interactive database.

More About The Inductees

The Cockman Family

John Cockman, spokesperson for The Cockman Family, shared with High Country Press earlier this week that, while his family band is now officially retired, the group continues to perform at a few special events throughout the area. They have been invited to perform, on two previous occasions, at the Blue Ridge Hall of Fame indication ceremony. 

“The first time was in 2015, when we introduced and performed a song for one of our greatest musical influences, the Lewis Family, from Lincolnton, Ga., Cockman said. “The second time was in 2019 when we introduced and performed two songs for the induction of the Union Grove Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention.”

While they’ve always enjoyed performing at the Wilkesboro-based event, of course, this one will be special for the Cockman Family for several reasons.

“We’ve been performing publicly since March of 1988,  and this month marks our 35th anniversary of making music together.” 

From nearby Sherrills Ford, The Cockman Family is a true family group, consisting of four brothers, a sister and their father, all known for their unique style of traditional bluegrass gospel music.  Each member is a fine musician and with their arrangements of older gospel numbers, original songs and tight family harmonies they have become popular in and around North Carolina. Audiences have always appreciated the genuine faith and family unity which is so obvious in their performances. They have been nominated and won many awards, both individually and as a band, and have participated in several PBS programs.

“Although we are retired, the Cockman Family still performs many concert dates in western NC, including a few in the High Country,” Cockman shared. “We regularly play for the Independence Day Festival in Blowing Rock on the Saturday closest to the 4th of July, Fred’s Summer Concert Series at Fred’s Mercantile on Beech Mountain the second Saturday of July, and Blowing Rock’s Lighting of the Town festival on Black Friday.”

The Cockman Family has just recorded a new album, which will be out sometime in April.

As a more familiar face to the High Country than are his family members, perhaps, John Cockman, lives in Blowing Rock with his family, which includes six children — four of which are adopted. “That brings the total number of Cockman grandchildren to seventeen,” he said. “The cousins are all musical and have formed several bands of their own.

The Cockmans are active in several local fostering and adoption charities and ministries, John added.

Having retired last year after 23 years of teaching physics at Appalachian State University, John operates a website for fiddle instruction, “bluegrassdaddy.com;” for the last 12 years, he has offered a free summer fiddle camp for local children that has now grown to include about 100 students. 

Doyle Lawson

Doyle Lawson, from the Kingsport, Tenn. area,  is a traditional bluegrass and gospel musician best known as a mandolin player, vocalist, producer, and long-time leader of his six-man group Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. In his youth, he was strongly influenced by listening to Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys on the Grand Ole Opry. After playing with the likes of Jimmy Martin, JD Crowe, and Country Gentlemen, Lawson started his own band in 1979.  They created their own “Quicksilver” sound of stellar musicianship and Southern gospel quartet harmonies winning numerous accolades over the years. Even though the band makeup changed, they never lost that “sound” and remain one of the most popular bluegrass and gospel bands ever.

L. W. Lambert

L. W. Lambert grew up in a musical family in Wilkes County. The banjo became his primary instrument after hearing Earl Scruggs on the radio. Playing with family and bands from the region, he was heard regularly on many local radio shows. In 1955 the Blue River Boys were reorganized by the Murphy Brothers with Lambert playing banjo. They stayed together for six years and then he played with other artists. In 1972, he helped reorganize the Blue River Boys and, in that year, they won thirty-one of thirty-four fiddler’s conventions taking home an astounding $15,800. In later years, he farmed in Iredell County and remained active with his music.

Willard Gayheart

Willard Gayheart grew up in the Depression-era Appalachia state of Kentucky. Following a short time at Berea College, he enlisted in the Air Force. After his discharge, he married and relocated to the Galax area of Virginia, a region known for its music. His artwork soon flourished, and he discovered the joy of playing with the many local talented musicians. He has been a founding member of several bands in the area and is a well-known regional songwriter. Influenced by his Kentucky years, his artwork and music often reflect his memories of hard, but good times. Today, Gayheart can still be found picking at his Frame Shop, the Blue Ridge Music Center or for various local events.

Barry Poss

Upon moving to Durham in 1968, Barry Poss discovered traditional music. Instead of pursuing a doctorate in sociology, he left academia for the recording industry. With no knowledge of the business, but a lot of passion, he answered an ad by County Records in Floyd, Virginia. A few years later, and with their distribution help, he founded and became president of Sugar Hill Records, a roots-based contemporary music label. The Sugar Hill catalog grew to contain some of the finest bluegrass, folk, mountain blues and country recordings ever produced. The label has won hundreds of awards, including twelve Grammys, three presented to Poss, himself.

Benton Flippen

Benton Flippen grew up in Surry County, and became best known for his fiddle playing, but was an accomplished five-string banjo player, as well. While playing with many family and regional musicians, Flippen developed his own fiddle and banjo styles. His unusual fingering patterns enabled him to be creative in his music, and he usually won the many band or fiddle contests he entered. His band, the Green Valley Boys, made history in 1948 when they were the first performers on WPAQ radio in Mount Airy. They reappeared in 2007 at the station for its first streaming broadcast. Flippen’s compositions and recordings are still played and appreciated today.

Donnie Story

Donnie Story grew up in Wilkes County. His family listened to a wide variety of music which had an impact on his appreciation of different genres. For a short time he played the piano, but after hearing local musician, Lee Foster, playing drums, Story left the piano for a drum kit. After an accident in 1965, he was unable to hold a drumstick for a year, but he was able to hold a guitar pick. He returned to the drums until 1969 when the guitar became his primary instrument. Story has been a full-time performer in the region for over 50 years.

More Information

Sponsors for this event include the Town of Wilkesboro, Marilyn Payne/A-1 Self Storage, NC Arts Council and Wilkes Art Gallery, Arnold and Rebecca Lakey, Main Street Music and Loan, Heart of Folk/Carolina in the Fall, Brame Huie Pharmacy, GUNTONFILM.com, Ann Showalter, George Childers, Nancy Watson, R. G. Absher, and Surrey Bank & Trust.  

This project is supported by the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

The Wilkes Heritage Museum collects and preserves historic structures, artifacts and documents of Wilkes County, and serves as a resource center for every Wilkes County citizen and visitor.  Through exhibits, educational programs, performances, and research, the Wilkes Heritage Museum interprets the history of Wilkes County and western North Carolina. 

Tickets for the ceremony are available at the Wilkes Heritage Museum gift shop or website. Tickets are $20 per person for the ceremony. The doors open at 6 p.m. and the ceremony begins at 7 pm. Due to limited seating, early ticket purchases are highly recommended.

Wilkes Heritage Museum is located at 100 East Main Street in Wilkesboro.

For more information about The Wilkes Heritage Museum and the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame, call 336-667-3171 or go to www.wilkesheritagemuseum.com .