Mike Morningstar: Distinguished West Virginian

Published: Oct. 25, 2019 at 5:40 PM EDT
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West Virginians aren’t always given much credit for their cultural contributions, but one man was recently honored by the state for his contributions to folk and country music. Mike Morningstar played music for a living for about fifty years, and his songs had a common theme: life in West Virginia.

“Mike obviously represents the place where he came from, which is West Virginia. And I mean he is as West Virginia as you can get. And I say that with love,” said Roger Sheppard, one of Morningstar’s friends.

“And if you listen to his music, ‘Here’s To The Working Man,’ ‘West Virginia Girl,’ ‘Brown Eyed Country Girl,’ they’re all right there, telling West Virginia’s story,” said Rowland Hill, who produced a film about Mike Morningstar.

While Morningstar’s work reflects the people of West Virginia, the man himself is a part of those people.

“Those were the places I played the most, where the working class gathered,” said Morningstar.

“Even when his family wasn’t there, the audience was his family. So he brought them into be a part of his family. And they were all a big family. That was one of the most enjoyable things about playing music with Mike,” said Sheppard.

Morningstar likely could’ve gone a lot further with his musical career, but he has always been happy to play in bars all around West Virginia.

“I saw a lot of West Virginia because I played all over the state. I met wonderful people everywhere and I was always treated kindly. And it still kind of amazes me because I am just about as far from commercial music you can get,” said Morningstar.

Morningstar’s dedication to music and the state of West Virginia are part of the reason why he was nominated to be a Distinguished West Virginian.

After Morningstar caught up with John Kelly and some other old friends, Kelly called the governor’s office to tell them Mike Morningstar should be awarded the Distinguished West Virginian Award.

And that was that. Governor Justice was unable to present the award, so a short ceremony was held at Parkersburg City Council.

Many people see West Virginia in Mike Morningstar.

“He has a great love for his state and he just is who he is. Mike is not pretentious. What you see is what you get with Mike Morningstar,” said Sheppard.

Morningstar retired in 2012, but three years ago he started picking up the guitar again using an old electric to practice. And while he can’t play long shows, he’ll occasionally put on a half an hour set.