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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 Lawn.

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 anyway!

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 1977.

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 Smith).

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 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.


Hampshire County Arts Council, P.O. Box 624, Romney, WV 26757    webmaster e-mail address

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