About Dwight and the Music

Dwight Diller is one of a small handful of native West Virginia musicians actively engaged in preserving the traditional music of his state. Dwight was born in 1946, and grew up having instilled in him the mountain culture of east central West Virginia. His ancestors were some of the earliest settlers of the region around Pocahontas County. Dwight’s early interest in the old stories and the old music, led him to seek out the old people in his home area who were the repositories of this tradition. According to Dwight: ”I can’t remember when I wasn’t interested in the stories being told by and about the old folks from my region.” Then on his own, approximately 40 years ago, with a powerful desire to connect with his heritage,

Dwight pushed his way into a marginalized realm that had been rejected by the local powers.

The most well known of Dwight’s neighbors that had kept the music alive were the Hammons’ [Burl, Maggie, Sherman, James], Lee Hammons [no relation] and Hamp Carpenter. Starting in 1968 when he first visited them, he spent countless hours absorbing everything he could. Dwight was also subconsciously fulfilling a deeper need while becoming close friends with the Hammons’ and Hamp. Their friendship was satisfying a longing for his mountain grandparents that were long dead, to help him through some of the very darkest periods of his life. Since that time, for a span of almost 40 years Dwight has experienced continual difficulties which have forced him to grow not just in his knowledge of the music and the culture, but also in wisdom and spirituality. At the age of 30 he experienced head on what was eternally real and became a Christian. This led to his spending 3 years in seminary and becoming a back porch Mennonite minister, which he has been since 1984.

In 1970, Dwight introduced the Hammons’ to the Library of Congress. Within two years, after sifting through all of Dwight’s many, many hours of recorded material and using Dwight as the major consultant, the Library of Congress had issued a boxed two LP record set with a 40 page booklet. The then-infant Rounder Records also released “Shaking Down the Acorns”, which was recorded at two small autumn gatherings Dwight sponsored near his home in 1970 and again in 1971. Both the above recordings were combined and re-released in 1998 by Rounder Records on CDs with a thick booklet included. Augusta Heritage Center released some of Dwight’s personal recordings as “The Diller Collection” Vol. 1 [1996] contained 35 fiddle tunes from Burl Hammons; Vol. 2 [1997]had 37 banjo tunes by 5 different Hammons’ and Hamp Carpenter

The June 1996 issue of “Banjo Newsletter” featured a large interview with Dwight by Bates Littlehales. It was “one of the best articles they’ve published” said Gordon Banks. In it, Bates brought out the strong feelings Dwight has for his heritage as well as his music. The 1997 issue of “Sing Out” also had included an interview with Dwight. This article referred to him as the “guardian of traditional West Virginia mountain music”. In 2003 Dwight was chosen as one of the representatives of the Appalachian region at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC

Now with four decades of playing [1968] and almost as many years teaching the old music [1971], Dwight has long since come into his own as an interpreter of his heritage. His music continues to mature as he year in and year out teaches the old music, its context, how not to mistreat it. This continual teaching year after year brings about changes in his internal personal growth which keeps his music always fresh, never a clone of what is current and popular in the urban “old time” crowd. His music has the active ingredients that keep it in the spirit of the archaic feel without becoming a museum piece. It grows in depth like the traditional music of the 19th century central West Virginia mountains grew.

Now the members of Dwight’s generation are the ones who are carrying the tradition and have the responsibility of passing on the music and stories to the coming generations. No one is more able than Dwight to attend to this task.



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