Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Iris Bell with The Iris Bell Trio (Bell Enterprises)

Iris Bell with The Iris Bell Trio

9503 - This Is My West Virginia
(West Virginia's Only Official Centennial Song)

9504 - My West Virginia

Bell Enterprises Records
901 Main Street
Charleston, WV


Iris Bell obituary
(from the Charleston Daily Mail (Friday May 2, 2008) :

As a teenager, she heard Sarah Vaughan and fell in love with jazz. She taught herself to play jazz piano and learned songs by listening to the radio and scribbling lyrics in shorthand. Playing by ear, she built a repertoire of more than 7,000 pieces.

In 1956, at age 22, she formed the Iris Bell Trio. The only female bandleader in the area, she entertained regularly at the Press Club, Army Navy Club, Owl's Club and Charleston Athletic Club.
"We would play anywhere, work anytime, and got some good engagements," she said in a 1977 newspaper story. "Most of the dates were in bootleg clubs, but I was only raided once."

She wrote more than 20 songs, including one that was released on the flip side of a Paul Anka recording. In 1963, she wrote "This Is My West Virginia," the official West Virginia Centennial song adopted by the Legislature as a state song.

In the late 1960s, she took her trio on the road and settled for seven years in Ann Arbor, Mich., where she headlined at the Rubyiat Supper Club.

In 1975, she performed at Mr. Kelly's in Chicago, a coveted booking for jazz musicians. That summer, she appeared at the National Women's Music Festival with Melissa Manchester.
In 1977, she returned to Charleston. Battling depression triggered by her mother's death, she limited appearances for many years to the annual West Virginia Jazz Festival at the Science and Culture Center.

She revived her career in the 1990s and played frequently at the Fifth Quarter. In later years, beset with worsening health problems, she remained a virtual recluse.
She died in Buckhannon, where she moved recently to be near her youngest daughter.

West Virginia has three State songs (By Richard Ramella) :

“The West Virginia Hills,” with words by Ellen Ruddell King and music and chorus by Henry Everett Engle, was completed in 1885 in Gilmer County.

West Virginia, My Home Sweet Home” appeared in 1947 and was composed by Col. Julian G. Hearne, Jr., a Wheeling native, attorney, and career military officer.

The third song, “This Is My West Virginia,” was written by Charleston musician and performer Iris Bell in 1962.

Each of these three songs had received an official designation from the State Legislature over the years. “West Virginia, My Home Sweet Home” was declared the first official state song in 1947. In 1961, an edited and approved version of “The West Virginia Hills” was also made an official state song. In 1962, “This Is My West Virginia” was named the official Centennial Song of West Virginia. Understandably, this resulted in considerable confusion.

Lyrics of the three songs can be found HERE.


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