RIPLEY - It is an indisputable fact that country artist Kathy Mattea is one of West Virginia's finest. From her numerous number one hits to her double Grammy wins, Mattea's career is a representation of what a West Virginia native can achieve. Her unmistakable voice, generous charities, and amiable personality are known across the Mountain State and throughout the nation.
Lately, Mattea has returned to her roots, exploring the Appalachian music that she frequently heard while growing up. Her recent musical focus has been on West Virginia events including the 2006 Sago Mine disaster, in which 12 coal miners died. Mattea described the disaster as "an emotional rollercoaster for the entire country" and recalled sitting at her desk and bursting into tears after hearing news of the catastrophe.
This eventually led to the creation of "Coal," an album into which she channeled her grief from the tragedy. After "Coal," Mattea extended her exploration of Appalachian folk music with 2012's "Calling Me Home" which dives deeper into West Virginia musically, lyrically, and through covers of the state's classic folk songs. With the help of "Coal" and "Calling Me Home," Mattea has described her experience as "coming home musically."
Mattea is adamant in her belief that West Virginia natives with an interest in music should strive to grow and develop. She sees popular musical contests such as "American Idol" and "The Voice" potentially harmful for the implication that only the winner of the show will become successful. Mattea recalled losing a singing contest that she had participated in shortly after moving to Nashville, but she did not let the disappointment stop her. Additionally, she is a firm believer in the idea that practice makes perfect.
"I always tell people 'If you love playing, play.' Everyone I know who is good had a period of shutting themselves away with their instrument," said Mattea, explaining that practicing is the most essential part to thriving as a musician.
Mattea is also very focused on social activism, promoting charities for HIV/AIDS, global warming and, most recently, the Charity Challenge Benefit in Jackson County, West Virginia. The Charity Challenge consists of multiple activities that will raise funds for local nonprofit organizations that are vital to the Jackson County community. In addition to the annual events, Mattea will be headlining the gala celebration on Oct. 22. Along with performing, the country music artist will be speaking at Ripley High School and collaborating with the Ripley and Ravenswood choirs.
"Getting to work with these kids in high schools is going to be fun," Mattea said.
Through her music, it is apparent that Mattea has not forgotten about West Virginia and the state clearly has not forgotten her. If anyone has earned the title of a "West Virginia Hero" it is Mattea for her continuing promotion of the culture and values the state has to offer. When pondering her allegiance to the state, it is clear to Mattea where her roots are planted.
Page 2 of 2 - "I've been in Nashville since I was 19, but I identify as a West Virginian," Mattea reflected, giving the state's residents another reason to be proud that they do, too.