In Gratitude: Roddy Moore

Roddy Moore during the Richmond Folk Festival in Richmond, Virginia on 10/11/19. Photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Humanities

The Virginia Folklife Program at Virginia Humanities would like to express our deep gratitude to Roddy Moore, recently retired director of the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum at Ferrum College for his immeasurable assistance with the Folklife Demonstration Area at the 2019 Richmond Folk Festival. Roddy is unquestionably the preeminent authority on Virginia’s car culture, as well as so many other aspects of Virginia’s traditional culture. Roddy’s contributions to the preservation, documentation, presentation, and vibrancy of the folk traditions of the Blue Ridge region have transformed lives and impacted communities in the area and beyond. He has long been an invaluable resource and contributor to the field of folklife, and a relentless advocate for the folk traditions and their faithful practitioners that we so cherish.

The Virginia Folklife Program has long benefited from Roddy’s generous advice and mentorship. His wisdom was indispensable to us as we created some of the programs that have become the cornerstone of our work, including our apprenticeship program, touring programs, and recordings. We have relied on Roddy’s generous consultation over the years and cannot count the number of folk artists that he has introduced us to who have become mainstays in our public programming.

From 1972 until his retirement last year, Roddy directed the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum at Ferrum College. Since arriving at Ferrum, he oversaw a monumental amount of documentation and presentation of folklife and culture, mostly in South-Central and Southwest Virginia but also as ranging as far as New Mexico. Through perseverance, grants, and extensive private fundraising, he shaped the Institute into a modern 21st century folklife center, museum, and archive. In fact, it is the only institution in Virginia dedicated exclusively to folk culture, and is an anchor venue on Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail, the Crooked Road.

Roddy Moore (photo by Pat Jarrett/Virginia Folklife Program)

During his time at the Institute, Roddy curated multitudes of top-notch exhibitions showcasing a broad range of Blue Ridge cultural traditions and history, including some focused on Southwest Virginia car culture, moonshine, furniture crafts, instrument building, folk architecture, basketry, quilts and other decorative arts, folk toys and amusements, and many others. What characterizes each of these exhibitions, as well the publications and recordings that often accompanied them, is a deep commitment to research, authenticity, humanity, and scholarship.

Much of the work of the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum, such as its award-winning series of traditional music recordings recently adopted by Smithsonian Folkways, speaks to its broad range of projects and initiatives. However, Roddy’s greatest achievement is perhaps the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival, held in Ferrum each October. We have been blessed to work and collaborate with many folklife festivals around the country, and there are few that compare to this one. Showcasing everything from coon dog swim races to traditional butchery, African American mountain gospel to old time and bluegrass, and black pot chicken to homemade sorghum, Roddy created a model folk festival that has continued to thrive for more than four decades. And while the festival attracts visitors from outside the region, clearly its greatest support comes from the local community itself, which has truly and proudly embraced this festival as its own.

Throughout Roddy’s career, he has remained a fighter for the traditional arts and the communities that carry them on. He has always been as comfortable around coon dog handlers as he is around congressmen, and his contributions to the cultural fabric of our state cannot be measured.

Thanks for this and everything, Roddy, and enjoy your “retirement!”

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