RAVENSWOOD - The mountains of West Virginia are an integral part of rural life and feed the mystique of growing up in a rural place, says award-winning musician Kathy Mattea.

“It’s almost like the mountain in your backyard is part of your family,” she said.

This and many other statements Kathy Mattea said in an interview on Oct. 1, really stuck in my mind for days afterward. A clearly homespun and gentle woman, Mattea represents the best of what West Virginia has to offer, speaking with that familiar accent and wise tone that make you feel right at home and as if you have known her all your life.

Mattea peppered the interview with great insight from her perspective as a West Virginian-gone-big. When asked what she thought of the negative stereotypes pinned to virtually everyone who originated in the state, she said, “it is truly heartbreaking.” Yet, she said, it is actually amusing that she can be almost anywhere and someone will come up to her and ask what part of Virginia she is from.

“You will still find people today who don’t recognize West Virginia as a state,” she said.

Mattea does find, however, that there are places with similarities to West Virginia, including eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, but she also compares the Mountain State to Arkansas and some locations on the West Coast, saying people there do resemble the warm embrace you would receive as a guest in West Virginia.
She explained her reasoning for choosing coal mining to be the central focus of most of her newest works in the music industry.

“The deaths in the coal mines have had a huge emotional impact on me and the people around me,” she said, but there is solace in the music.

“Music is healing,” she said.

One purpose of her coal-inspired music was that she could reach out to those families who had lost members in mining disasters and take away some of their pain.

When asked whether her song-writing or her voice was her biggest strength, Mattea said she wholly believes her voice has made her who she is today. She said she received training in songwriting during her early years in Tennessee, but that her true talent showed in her high school choir days. She thinks that today’s upcoming musicians become caught up in being famous. Instead, they should express their passions, hone in on their natural talent and follow their real dreams.

Being an independent filmmaker, I especially delighted in her extensive knowledge of the film industry. She was enthusiastic about the film “October Sky,” based on the novel “Rocket Boys” by West Virginia author Homer Hickam. Mattea said she is always open for an invitation to contribute soundtrack music to a film, and remarked that it is very prestigious to have your own songs included in soundtracks. Her knowledge of how much goes on behind the scenes of films was impressive as her answer stretched to almost six minutes.

From humble beginnings in Cross Lanes, W.Va., to Grammy Award-winning stardom in adulthood, Mattea has led a very successful career, yet she still boasts the unbelievable politeness and homey personality you would expect of a West Virginian.