Melvin Wine


Born in 1909 in Braxton County, W.Va., Melvin Wine represented a living legacy of old-time music. Recipient of the first Vandalia Award in 1981 and winner of the National Heritage Fellowship, Melvin, who passed away in March 2003, was a sought-after performer whose fiddling encompassed a vast repertoire of unique tunes and bowing techniques from central West Virginia.

As Drew Beisswenger points out in his book, Fiddling Way Out Yonder: The Life and Music of Melvin Wine, Melvin learned many of his old tunes from his great-uncle and father, who had learned from his grandfather.

Adds Beisswenger, "A farmer, a coal miner, a father of ten children, and a deeply religious man, he has played music from the hard lessons of his own experience and shaped a musical tradition even while passing it to others. Wine has spent almost all of his ninety-two years in rural Braxton County, an area where the fiddle and dance traditions that were strong during his childhood and early adult life continue to be active today."

At his passing, Melvin was remembered in the Charleston Gazette not only for his lively, old-style fiddling, but also for his sharing of his music in classes he taught at the Augusta Heritage Workshops at Davis & Elkins College.

"Wine began fiddling in his teens, playing for dances and community work gatherings. He also soaked up music he heard around his Central West Virginia home," wrote Gazette staffer Paul Gartner. "As a curious man, Wine sought out such legendary fiddlers as John Cogar, Pat Cogar and Uncle Jack McElwain."

But Melvin's connection with people went beyond music, says Gerry Milnes, folk arts coordinator with D&E’s Augusta Heritage Workshops. Speaking with the Gazette, Milnes added, "People’s reaction to him was something deeper than music. His music was sort of like the method of getting to people. But once he connected ... .”

Added Gartner, "Since the late 1950s, he was part of the West Virginia Folk Festival at Glenville. To attend, he would take a break from cutting hay on the farm. For years, the intermediate musicians would gather with Wine on the sidewalk near the Conrad Motel and play Wine family standards, such as 'The Calhoun Swing'or 'Waiting for the Boatman.' There - in between trips to the hayfield - musicians and listeners alike would experience Wine’s playful musicianship and high-spirited humor. In later years, tunes would often end with an abrupt, playful, 'rrriiip'on the bow."