Cephas and Wiggins
From recording their first domestic release in the cozy confines
of a living room, to performing in front of thousands of people
all over the world, to entertaining the President, John Cephas
and Phil Wiggins play as The Washington Post declared "remarkable
guitar and harmonica duets. Their infectious rhythms and supple
melodies combine tasteful fingerpicking with impassioned harmonica
solos." They'll be bringing those wonderful sounds to Hampshire
County Sunday, July 25 at 5 PM for a Free Summer Concert on the
The Hampshire County Arts Council¹s summer concerts series
takes place at the Potomac Center on Blue St. in Romney, WV, a
wheelchair-accessible, smoke-free, alcohol-free facility. Bring
family, friends and lawn chairs (or a blanket) for lawn seating
and a picnic for a relaxing time. Refreshments will be available.
The concert will move indoors if rain threatens, so come on out
According to Down Beat, "Cephas' rich baritone singing and
intricate, refined ragtime fingerpicking are a perfect fit with
Wiggins' rural blues harmonica stylings." Cephas & Wiggins'
easy-going, deeply soulful brand of country blues bridges generations
of music lovers as effortlessly as the deceptively simple sounding
music they create.
Cephas & Wiggins keep the Piedmont tradition alive by infusing
it with their own originality, vitality, and most importantly,
fun. The duo celebrates the gentle, melodic blues style of the
Southeastern U.S. "Cephas and Wiggins," according to
Living Blues, "remain today's premier Piedmont blues guitar
and harmonica duo." The Washington City Paper said, "The
music is simultaneously intense and relaxed, and the songs have
a way of getting inside your head for days on end."
Because both were born in Washington DC, Cephas and Wiggins bring
an urban sophistication to the traditionally rural blues they
perform. John Cephas was born in DC in 1930 into a deeply religious
family, and was raised in Bowling Green, VA. His first taste of
music was gospel, but blues soon became his calling. Afer learning
to play the alternating thumb and fingerpicking guitar style that
defines Piedmont blues, John began emulating the records he hear
by Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Blake, Gary Davis and other early Piedmont
artists. Aside from playing the blues, John worked as a professional
gospel singer, carpenter and Atlantic fisherman. By the 1960s
he was starting to make a living from his music. He joined pianist
Wilber "Big Chief" Ellis' band until Ellis' death in
Among his many endeavors, John serves on the Executive Committee
of the National Council for the Traditional Arts and is a founder
of the Washington DC Blues Society. "More than anything else,"
says John, "I would like to see a revival of country blues
by more young people. More people going to concerts, learning
to play the music. That's why I stay in the field of traditional
music. I don't want it to die."
Phil Wiggins was born in DC in 1954. He began his musical career
with some of Washingotn's leading blues artists, including Archie
Edwards and John Jackson, and attributes his style to his years
spent accompanying locally noted slide guitarist and gospel singer,
Flora Molton. His harmonica sound developed from listening to
piano and horn players, as well as the music of Sonny Terry, Sonny
Boy Williamson I, Little Walter, Big Walter and Junior Wells.
Phil also apprenticed with Mother Scott (a contemporary of Bessie
The two first met in 1976 at the Smithsonian National Folklife
Festival. Along with pianist Wilber "Big Chief" Ellis
and bassist James Bellamy, John and Phil formed the Barrelhouse
Rockers. A year after Ellis' death, the duo of Cephas & Wiggins
was born. Besides being a renowned harmonica player, Wiggins is
also a gifted songwriter and singer whose material has helped
define the duo's sound. According to Wiggins, "People automatically
think of sadness and depression when they think of blues. But
the blues, of course, is uplifting music, music to rejuvenate
you, to nourish the spirit. When you get down, the blues will
pick you up again."
Cephas & Wiggins quickly became popular with traditional
blues fans in the US and Europe, where they recorded two albums.
Living Country Blues and Sweet Bitter Blues, for the German L&
R label. Often under the auspices of the US State Department,
the two spent much of the 1980s abroad, playing Eurpoe, Africa,
Central and South America, China, Australia, New Zealand and Scandinavia.
In 1988 they were among the first Americans to perform at the
Russian Folk Festival in Moscow. The Sydney Australia Morning
Herald called Cephas & Wiggins "Irresistible...Their
performance is wonderfully effortless and unforced."
By the end of the 1980s, the international blues community began
to recognize Cephas & Wiggins as the leading exponents of
traditional Tidewater blues. The two recorded their first domestic
album, Dog Days of August, in 1987 in John's living room, and
it quickly won a W.C. Handy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album
of the Year in 1989. John received a National Heritage Fellowship
Award. Often called the Living Treasure Award, this is the highest
honor the United States government offers a traditional artist.
Aside from their busy performance schedule, both Cephas and Wiggins
have also done their share of acting. In 1991 John portrayed a
blind bluesman in the Kennedy Center production of Blind Man Blues.
Phil was in the cast of Matewan, a prize-winning Hollywood film.
Together they appeared in the stage production of Chewing the
Blues and in the documentary films Blues Country and Houseparty.
They've also been featured in four nationally touring arts programs
sponsored by the National Council for the Traditional Arts: Masters
of the Steel String Guitar, Juke Joints and Jubilee, Saturday
Night and Sunday Morning, and Echoes of Africa.
In 1996, after two successful albums for Flying Fish, Cephas
& Wiggins made their Alligator debut with Cool Down. The vibrant
collection of original and traditional country blues hid its complexity
in the duo's simple, effortless delivery. "Easy to love,"
said the Associated Press. Jazz Times called the album "a
pure, unadulterated country blues gem." The success of the
album helped establish the duo as key figures in the resurgence
of interest in country blues.
"No pretense here," hailed the Chicago Tribune describing
a typical Cephas & Wiggins performance, "just down-home,
traditional country blues delivered with feeling." After
hundreds of concerts at major festivals, concert halls and colleges,
Cephas & Wiggins continue to bring energetic good times to
each perfromance, winning new fans everywhere they go.
This engagement of Cephas & Wiggins is a Mid-Atlantic Arts
Foundation tour, funded by the Foundation in partnership with
the National Endowment for the Arts Regional Touring Program.
The concert is made possible thanks to support from the Bank of
Romney and is presented with financial assistance from the WV
Division of Culture and History and the National Endowment for
the Arts, with approval from the WV Commission on the Arts.
For more information about the Hampshire County Arts Council
and its concerts, visit www.HampshireArts.org or call 304-496-8002.
In August the series will present Ensemble Tympanon‹ the
eclectic sounds of West Virginian Nick Blanton on hammered dulcimer,
galoubet and tambourin, paired with master string player Paul
Oorts on a variety of instruments‹to present a program of
Old World Music from the Heart of Europe.