Music, family, harmony, and community; these were the four that Everett Russ Fluharty sought to unite through his performances and education. Russ Fluharty, (December 13, 1906-March 29, 1989), was a popular local musician known simply as The Dulcimer Man, he was a well-known local conservator and ambassador of Appalachian culture to the surrounding communities. He not only got to play for prestigious national institutions, but also through sheer perseverance and passion preserved the instrument and local folk music for our enjoyment today.
Fluharty was born on December 19, 1906 and grew up a small farm on Mohan’s run
near Mannington, West Virginia. A lifetime resident of Mannington, his musical
talents were deeply ingrained in the local farming community, one with a rich
musical history. Russ, came from a tightknit family who were, per local tradition,
musically inclined. His Uncle Ezra Fluharty gifted him his first antique Dulcimer
but only on the condition that Russ would fix it and learn to play. Russ was reluctant
at first, having not previously known how to do so, but this gift proved to be
the start of his career in music, which lasted until he died in March, 1989.
career in music began informally, sometime in the early 30’s, and lasted until shortly
before his death in 1989. His early career was a bit patchy, because he lived
in a poor farming community in the Great Depression. He started small, with
local performances being scheduled around his family and his job he held at the
Mannington (Bowers) Pottery Co. He performed at local venues like fairs,
schools, churches, and alike. Some of his bigger venues were the Southern
States Feed Company Talent Show, in Fairmont and Kingwood, and even performed
in the national country music championship. In 1949, shortly after his brother returned
home from active service, Russ experimented for a brief time in a band called
the “Rhythm Rascals.” They got their first bit of spotlight on KDKA in the “Wilkins
biggest challenge in his career was his first speed bump, the very gift that
wet his appetite for musical preservation, and later won him the prestigious Vandalia
Award. This artifact, his first Dulcimer, was found to be an interesting puzzle.
For starters, he had to research the instrument himself, because it is a virtually
unknown instrument, which, according to local lore, was brought over from the middle
east to Appalachia by ‘a band of traveling gypsies’ who traded it out to local
farmers in exchange for goods. It is an ancient design with deep roots, being a
precursor to the guitar and the piano-and it had widespread use in the 1600s. It
primarily exists on a very local level in pockets of West Virginia and Randolph
and Guilford Counties in North Carolina. The Hammered Dulcimer is
typically associated with “Old Time” music and Appalachian folk tunes. Old Time
music is traditionally a very folksy experience, typically consisting of a
rural string band which plays the traditional local ballads, hymns, and psalms.
Old Time music, is commonly tied into the Appalachian musical pedigree, the
foundations of bluegrass, and has since evolved to include other forms of
‘traditional’ local music as well. The Hammered Dulcimer is associated
with dance and designed to be interacted with-not simply listened to. If you
were listening to an ‘Old Time’ tune-you were dancing to it! Russ found
out through inquiry that the instrument was generally played by itself and was
not accompanied by music. Russ repaired and tuned the instrument himself.
ties to the Old Time music would have been forgotten if it weren’t for Russ persistence
in learning a ‘dead instrument’. The instrument underwent a series of ups and
downs in popularity with the resurgence and availability of guitars and pianos-until
the ‘folk music revival’. By the time Russ got his first in the early 20s, hammered
dulcimers were so rare that some communities had forgotten how to integrate
them into their performances. Russ himself had never come across another
Dulcimer player in his later tours. Because of how old the dulcimer is, being virtually
unknown by sometime in the early 1900s-not much information exists about the
instrument in Appalachian culture. It is likely, that Russ realized the
significance of the loss of the instrument when he realized that the old folks of
his day didn’t even know how to play!
career began in earnest after he retired, sometime in the late 60s. The Folk Music
Revival by this time was in full swing, and demand for his performances was
high. He continued to tour wherever people asked him to play, appearing in
major events along-side major artist such as Arlo Guthrie! His travels during
this time took him all over the region, from North Carolina to Maryland, Pennsylvania,
New York, and Washington D.C. Some of the Venues which he played were major
regional Festivals, such as The Harper’s Ferry Festival, Newport Folk Festival,
the Philadelphia Folk Festival, The Smithsonian Folklife Festival and even appeared
on radio and television. He even appeared on the David Frost Show! Russ by this
time had developed a distinct musical style, as a simple country man, in his
signature black suit and 100-year-old clean, brushed and felted hat, as old as
the hammered dulcimer he played. Johnny cash reportedly said that he inspired
his manner of dress after him!
“Well sir, there was this old time dulcimer
player from West Virginia, and I liked his music and the way he dressed.”
Russ’ lifetime of dedication to promoting the
regional culture of music and bringing back the dulcimer from the dead was the
very thing that won him the Vandalia Award in 1989. Most of his travels
appeared to be conducted for the Commerce Department of West Virginia, outside
of eagerly providing lessons for the curious. His performance is ‘quaint’
and low-key: with his own signature flair being singing to the instrument.
“I played from the heart to bring people together, not impress
heard Russ play and I patterned myself after Russ for many years…Then to find
out that Patty (Looman) learned from Russ. So, my music style goes back from me
to Patty, to Russ…”.
PattyFest celebrates Appalachian dulcimer music
 Twila Dawn Fluharty, The Dulcimer Man: The Russel Fluharty Story, (Fairmont, W. Va.: Fairmont State Press, 2004). pg 113
 Dawn, The Dulcimer Man: The Russel Fluharty Story, pg 127
 Mary Wade Burnside, Pattyfest Celebrates Appalachian Dulcimer, The Exponent Telegram, May 14, 2015, https://www.wvnews.com/theet/lifestyles/pulse/pattyfest-celebrates-appalachian-dulcimer-music/articl...