At age 85, Nat Reese of Princeton WV still sends chills
through his audience.
“They call me a blues man, which I sing blues, but I like
country music, I like gospel music, blues, and swing,” said Reese at his
induction into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in November.
Reese grew up in southern West Virginia coal camps. He was invited to join
a popular local dance band called the Dukes of Swing as a young teenager and
toured throughout West Virginia and Virginia.
He went on to win an art scholarship to Bluefield State
College. He served in WWII, got married, and raised a family while working
But he’s always played his music.
“Music went along with life with me,” said Reese.
“Between me and my contacts, all colors, white, green,
whatever, the music made the connection.”
Blues harmonica player Phil Wiggins has played with Reese
for 25 years at the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins. They’ve also toured
together throughout the U.S and Europe.
“Nat grew up in a generation that traveled around and played
for parties and dances and played for people who were hard working people and
really had a need to celebrate,” said Wiggins. “So he plays everything from
Duke Ellington to the Mississippi Sheiks, to polkas and Hawaiian tunes.”
Wiggins says all of Reese’s music nourishes the spirit.
“We played in
Europe for several thousand people at one
time, and you would have thought they were sitting in Nat’s living room,” said
powerful he connects with people.”
Looking back at eight decades of performing, Reese says his
participation in the 400th anniversary of the founding of Williamsburg, VA, in 2007, was a personal milestone.
The festivities were held on land that was once a
“I felt like I was blessed, to be invited to play, eat,
enjoy myself at a place where three or four centuries of colored people, maybe some of
my people, never was able to be free to do that,” said Reese.
“It was almost as if I could see that the world had
WVPBS’ Outlook program will feature all 11 new
members of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame Thursday, Dec. 17 at 9pm and Sunday, Dec. 20 at 6pm.