West Virginia Book Festival

Melvin Wine and “Passing The Music Down”

Charleston-based children’s author (and 2010 West Virginia Book Festival presenter) Sarah Sullivan talked to me a couple of weeks ago about her new book, “Passing The Music Down,” which gets released May 10. The story is here, with a nice video by the Gazette’s Kathryn Gregory.

The story is largely (almost entirely, according to Sarah) based on the events that drew longtime fiddler Melvin Wine and young fiddler Jake Krack together. Much of what’s in the story is factual, and there’s a very long author’s note at the end describing the relationship between the two.

Melvin Wine, who died in 2003, is also the subject of a biography, “Fiddling Way Out Yonder,” written by music librarian Drew Beisswenger and published in 2008. I haven’t read that book, but the bare outline of Wine’s life is pretty remarkable. Raised in Braxton County, he became a fiddler of some renown, but then put his fiddle away from more than two decades after experiencing a religious conversion.

As Sarah relayed the story to me, Wine picked his fiddle back up when he was babysitting one of his grandchildren, and she wouldn’t stop fussing. He played her some music to try to calm her down, and she loved it, and he decided that anything that brought that much joy to a child couldn’t be bad. Over the next few decades, he became well known as a fiddler and made several commercial recordings.