Bill Jenkins' First Guitar
Cottingham, Early 60's
Bill at the National Press Club 1964
Bill at the National Press Club 2014
The Coveted Blue
Bill With His Guitar at the Virginia Musical Museum Hall of Fame Room
Bill with Senator Tommy Norment
After a musical career spanning over 60 years, Bill Jenkins, a member of the Virginia Musical Hall of Fame is still going strong. His old Martin D45 guitar is in a case next to Ralph Stanley's banjo. Other distinguished members of the Hall of Fame include: Wayne Newton, Roy Clark, Kate Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Patsy Cline, the Statler Brothers, Pearl Bailey, the Carter Family, and a few others. In recognition of his induction into the Hall of Fame and for his long time commitment to preserving this historic music, the Governor of Virginia issued an official Proclamation and the House of Delegates and the Senate passed a Joint Resolution in his honor.
On March 28, 2014 Bill performed for a second time at the National Press Club. In 1964, three young teenager, Bill Jenkins and the two Cottingham brothers, Robert and Russell, were given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play there. During the weekends, the young men were playing "Hootenannies" in the D.C. area when their talent was noticed by the Washington correspondent for the Richmond Times Dispatch. He was greatly impressed by their musical ability and that they were playing "traditional" mountain music at such an early age. He arranged for the three young men to put on a one-hour evening show. Fifty years later, Bill Jenkins and the Virginia Mountain Boys, and Robert Cottingham, were invited to perform a special 50th Anniversary Show. It was a historic event in that only one other person in the long history of the Club had ever had a 50th Show, his name was Jack Benny.
As a youngster, Bill appeared on the Dominion Barn Dance in Richmond. Later he performed with the Virginia Gentlemen and with Red Allen and the Kentuckians. Bill has performed on the White House lawn and was featured on a nationally syndicated Smithsonian Institute program promoting traditional music. Jenkins founded The Virginia Mountain Boys in 1971 and they have been performing together ever since.
Jenkins was born and raised in the Tidewater area of Virginia into a family with a long musical history. Bill has three cousins who were musicians and a great uncle who was a noted old-time auto harpist. Bill's earliest musical influence was with the extended family singing at his aunt's home. As he later recalled, "We were very poor and did not have a car, or a phone, or money for entertainment. Many nights we would just sit around and sing a lot of old songs that had been handed down through the years. Many of these songs such as 'In the Pines', 'Little Bessie', 'Wayfaring Stranger', 'Man of Constant Sorrow' and others I use in my shows today." He also noted that he was strongly influenced by the old time blues singers and the black workers he labored alongside on the family farm. "While working they would sing the old slave songs and hymns. Some of the songs like 'Climbing Jacob's Ladder', 'Old Daniel Prayed', 'Sister Mary', and others,I also use in today's shows. That 'lonesome' sound has always been a large part of my musical influence."
Jenkins has collected countless numbers of these old songs over his 58 years. His band can sing over 500 songs from memory. With such an extensive repertoire, every show can be different depending on the location, audience, occasion, and Jenkins' "frame of mind". As one of the best cross picking guitarist in the country, Bill is backed up by Ken Worrell, singer and guitarist; Joe Gilley on the bass. The world class five string banjo player, Clyde Bailey, contributes 'breakdowns" and sings baritone.
Jenkins and the Virginia Mountain Boys bring to life this authentic music of the Southern Appalachians. This old time music is a reflection of the lives of the early immigrants and their descendants who eked out a meager living in the hills and hollows of these majestic mountains. Entertainment options were few and thus self made music became the norm. This mountain music, heavily influenced by Scots-Irish and African rhythms, later gave birth to early Bluegrass and to many early country songs of which some are also included in the shows. The group performs universally loved, but seldom heard music that brings forth a gamut of emotions. Each song is performed as originally written or as handed down through the ages. Thus, these ballads are undiluted and raw like the emotions they bring forth.
The sound of the group differs from most contemporary Bluegrass bands in that it has an older, starker, and rawer sound. Jenkins and Worrell use their voices as instruments as much as their guitars. The ability to swap back and forth from lead to harmony several times during the same song is part of their genius, which has been honed in over 45 years of practice and performance. Moreover, a short history lesson and an explanation about each song is an important part of each show.
Audience reactions during their shows are almost always the same regardless of the venue. Following two hours of hand clapping, toe tapping, singing along, and wiping away tears, the audience always gives a standing ovation and is rewarded with an encore, sometimes two. Afterwards, Bill and the band "hang around", shake hands, sign autographs, and accept the well deserved kudos for a truly special event. The rapport is genuine both ways and they have developed a large group of loyal followers, including some who travel great distances to hear them play. As one longtime fan recently commented....
"Their performance is not just another show, it is an experience that I would never miss".
The Virginia Mountain Boys is a registered name solely owned by Bill Jenkins since 1971