Opera House stage brings Jazz, traditional and more
The Pocahontas County Opera House has something for everyone this winter season, from chart-topping jazz to the best in local traditional music and more.
On December 13, America’s Got Talent winner and Logan native Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr., will perform for a sold-out crowd for a special Christmas benefit concert for the Pocahontas County Opera House Foundation. Accompanied by his jazz combo, Murphy will transport the audience back to the days of the Rat Pack, filling the Opera House with the tunes of Frank Sinatra and the Great American Songbook.
Modern Woodmen of America’s Marlinton chapter has pledged to match the proceeds raised from the concert, up to $2,500.
In November 2010, Landau Eugene Murphy and his wife, Jennifer, left their hometown of Logan for New York City, where they stood for more than 12 hours outside the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. They were among the thousands of people—young and old, singers, dancers, jugglers, mimes, and more—lined up to audition for NBC’s America’s Got Talent. It would take several more hours for Murphy to finally get inside and sing a few bars, and his day grew even longer as he sang for one producer after another. Soon, he was the last one sitting in a huge rehearsal hall.
“I knew that was a good sign,” recalled Jennifer.
The rest, as they say, is history.
After receiving standing ovations from judges Sharon Osbourne, Piers Morgan and Howie Mandel, singing a sizzling duet with the iconic Patti LaBelle, and crooning a rousing rendition of “My Way,” Murphy was named the winner of AGT’s sixth season on September 14, 2011. Just in time for Christmas 2011, Syco/Columbia Records released Murphy’s first album, “That’s Life,” which debuted at number one on the Billboard jazz charts and the top 40 overall. Not only did his unique singing style make him stand out from all of his competition, Landau’s humility, charm and confidence endeared him to the AGT judges, viewers and audiences at his sold-out concert tour that launched in December 2011 and is still going strong.
Many have compared Murphy’s smooth vocals and phrasing to that of Frank Sinatra, a singer he has always admired. That’s why many of the tracks from “That’s Life” are Sinatra standards, but Murphy does them his way.
“I put my own voice and my own soul into this album,” said Murphy. “For a lot of music fans, especially older people, I can bring back some happy memories. And hopefully I can create new memories for generations to come. I think my album encompasses all of that. I want to give back as much as possible and stay true to the people who supported me,” he said.
As part of his AGT prize, Landau realized a lifelong dream and headlined a show at the Colosseum Theater at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas – the legendary playground for Sinatra and his iconic Rat Pack.
Other tour stops include the legendary Apollo Theatre, the DTE Energy Center in Detroit with Motown's legendary Temptations, headlining appearances at the West Virginia and California state fairs, a Superbowl appearance, a televised performance at The Hollywood Christmas Parade and a string of sold out headlining shows across the USA, many supporting local charities. Major media appearances have included The Today Show, Anderson Cooper, The View and many more. He's also honored his country by singing the National Anthem at Madison Square Garden, WVU's Mountaineer Field, prior to a West Virginia University/LSU matchup and at several other public events.
This sudden rise to fame has been in keeping with Landau’s roller-coaster ride of a life. As a young man, he was once reduced to homelessness, sleeping in his car. He worked as a car washer during the months leading up to his TV performances—and was down to his last pair of pants and jacket when he arrived to sing at his America's Got Talent audition.
"We didn’t discuss this during the show because we didn’t want people feeling sorry for us," said Murphy. "But my wife and I had been away taking care of her mother, who had just been hospitalized, and someone broke into our house and cleaned us out. They robbed us blind. And we were so heartbroken. Thank goodness we were able to move in with my mother-in-law. We had no place else to go.”
After they got over the initial shock of their situation, Murphy said he began to take stock of what they had left, physically and emotionally.
“I remember lying on the bed, looking at the ceiling. Jennifer was so down. I was talking to God and I heard him say, ‘You need to get on a bigger stage – and hold your head up.’ That’s when I knew I had to try out for ‘America’s Got Talent’.”
"My father was a coal miner and he really loves music," said Murphy. "My mother is from a musical family, too."
After my parents split up when I was 8, I moved with my mother and two brothers and two sisters to Detroit," Landau explained. "It was completely different from Logan; I had to get used to the streets. My focus wasn’t on school."
Murphy dropped out in the 11th grade to put his energy into looking out for the safety of himself and his family.
“Church and basketball were the only things that got me out of the house and kept me going," he said. "I played for a church league, which kept me off the streets and they would take us to events where we could eat. Basketball was my first love and I grew up playing basketball with some great ballplayers like NBA star Chris Webber. There were times when I’d make a shot or dunk on someone and I’d run back down the court with a smile on my face singing ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, everyone got a big kick out of it."
After moving back home to Logan in the late 1990s, Murphy renewed a friendship with a childhood friend, Jennifer Carter.
The two started working together at a restaurant, where she was a manager, and they finally married in 2005.
"I love my kids and my wife with all my heart, more than anything," said the proud husband and father of five. " I want to make sure that they don’t have the same struggles I have had. I want them to have more opportunities. I want them to be able to do what they want to do."
Despite having gone from wash rags to riches, Murphy said he's happiest when he's with his family.
"I like it when there is no stress, and I’m doing what I want to do," he said, "which is to sing."
In February, the Opera House will keep the music in West Virginia. In fact, all of the musicians in this season's annual Opry Night are based in Pocahontas County.
On February 23 at 7:30 p.m., Opry Night will feature a trio of Pocahontas County bands specializing on old-time and traditional bluegrass music: The Elk River Ramblers, the Hefner Family and the Viney Mountain Boys.
The Elk River Ramblers are the house band at the Elk River Inn at Slaty Fork, where they can be heard most Thursday nights.
The Ramblers are Terry Richardson on guitar, Alan Dutchess on mandolin, guitar, banjo and vocals, and Paul Marganian on fiddle, guitar, and vocals. With a foundation in old-time and celtic music, The Elk River Ramblers also branch out into bluegrass, klezmer, and surprising renditions of contemporary pop music.
Pocahontas County’s own Viney Mountain Boys feature Doug Scott, Richard Hefner II, David Kershner and Jody Harrison. Drawing from influences that include the Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, and Flatt and Scruggs, the Viney Mountain Boys’ old, traditional bluegrass brings out the purist fans as well as a young set of new fans.
A son of Mill Point, Bill Hefner is one of the most noted flat pick guitar players in West Virginia. A founding member of the Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys, he is also an accomplished mandolin player. Together with wife Elma Hefner, daughters Julia Williams and Melissa Totten, The Hefner family performs traditional and gospel music.
On Friday, March 8, at 7:30 p.m., acoustic singer-songwriting duo The Sea, The Sea will bring their smooth, intricate harmonies and award-winning songwriting to the Opera House.
Winners of the 2012 Kerrville New Folk competition, The Sea, The Sea is Mira Stanley and Chuck E. Costa.
The intimacy of their performances evokes the likes of other contemporary duos, but The Sea, The Sea has carved out a niche with a unique blend of voices and seamless phrasing. The duo's name comes from a cry of joy by ancient Greek soldiers after an arduous journey back home from war.
Costa toured for years as a solo artist and independently released five albums. He also is the appointed 2011-2012 Official Connecticut State Troubadour. Stanley combines extensive training in dance, theater and music (Boston Conservatory, University of Michigan) with the folksy roots she cultivated growing up in the wings of Mountain Stage as the daughter of its musical director, Ron Sowell.
In the days prior to their performance, the duo will be conducting a song-writing workshop with Pocahontas County youth, who will join The Sea, The Sea on the stage for Friday evening's concert.
Tickets are available in advance at pocahontasoperahouse.org and at the 4th Avenue Gallery in Marlinton.
The Pocahontas County Opera House is located at 818 Third Avenue in Marlinton. Performances at the Opera House are informal, family-friendly and open to all. The entrance and main seating are accessible to persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities are encouraged to attend; special accommodations can be arranged upon request by calling 304-799-6645.
The Opera House Performance Series is presented with financial assistance through a grant from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History and the National Endowment for the Arts, with approval from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts. Financial support for this concert is also provided by Pocahontas County Drama, Fairs and Festivals, Pendleton Community Bank, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, The Law Office of Roger D. Forman, Kellison-Bialek Nationwide Insurance, Brightside Acres, The Old Clark Inn, and Jerico Bed and Breakfast and Pre-Civil War Log Cabins.