The Kennedy Center

Robin Kessinger


Great traditional musicians leave a legacy of music, stories, and, most importantly, a new generation of musicians influenced by their work. Historically, traditional music was only passed from one person to another: this was the only proven way of maintaining the tradition. The “folk process” was in play. It strengthened the more artistically significant music which is still performed and passed on by musicians who treasure it. In West Virginia, fiddle music is often identified with a significant musician to whom most people refer when they name the tune. They say, “It’s a Henry Reed tune,” or a “Melvin Wine tune,” or a “Clark Kessinger tune.” That older generation of musicians represent the last generation of musicians who received their music solely through family and regional sources. Their legacy lies within the artists who still play their music today.

Numerous West Virginia fiddlers had great talent, noteworthy repertoires, and have left a significant legacy. Their music is influential long after their own death. Kanawha Valley fiddler Clark Kessinger is credited with having masterful technique. A rare film clip from the Newport Folk Festival exhibits Clark Kessigner’s amazing showmanship, and this makes for an outstanding performance. Born in Charleston, West Virginia, he was taken by another legendary West Virginia fiddler, “Blind Ed” Haley. Clark Kessinger’s music was first documented by the fledgling commercial recording industry, usually not a small player in informing the historical knowledge of Appalachian music. Clark Kessinger’s music was “rediscovered” and recorded again in the 1960s. By then, with modern media, his talents transcended geographical boundaries, and is represented in the repertoires of younger old-time musicians everywhere. Clark Kessinger’s legacy is still found and is perhaps strongest within the traditional boundaries of family and community.

Robin Kessinger, Clark Kessinger’s great nephew, grew up with Clark Kessinger’s music and played string music with his father, Bob Kessinger. Mr. Robin Kessinger’s incredible musical abilities are played on a guitar rather than a fiddle. Clark Kessinger’s innovative techniques and musical challenges are not unlike Mr. Kessinger’s inventive flat-pick guitar style. Like Clark Kessinger, Mr. Robin Kessinger’s musical interests sometimes roam outside of traditional boundaries. Noted fiddler Georgia Slim (Robert Rutland), was a Kessinger family friend whom influenced Robin as well.

Watch Past Performances

Video 8/16/2012: The Kanawha Tradition

Robert Shafer, Robin Kessinger, and Bobby Taylor, three of the Kanawha Valley’s best traditional musicians, present a dynamic performance. Part of Homegrown: The Music of America concert series.

Robin Kessinger