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Chris Haddox

Chris Haddox with his violin at a grave site.


I research folk music traditions in southern West Virginia. It’s basically working to find stories about people who make music. These are not, in most cases, well known people. Some of them had some local or even regional notoriety. I am particularly interested in the Louis Watson Chappell Collection—a sound archive housed in the WV and Regional History Center at WVU.  The archives are not really easily accessible. The people who collected them back in the ‘40s and ‘50s didn’t really collect much information on the people. They got someone to play a collection of fiddle tunes or banjo tunes and they just didn’t get any information about the person. I’m interested in the songs and who those people were. My goal is to build the stories of the individuals behind the recordings. So many of them died in the ‘40s and ‘50s that I’m trying to track down family members and pictures and build biographies around these people for whom we have sound recordings. 

You’ve got to like detective work. Sometimes it’s just jumping for joy if we find a picture of somebody.

Recently, I tracked down the 96-year-old granddaughter of one of these singers. She was able to provide me with a picture of her grandmother. This woman was an incredible singer. She’s in the collection of archives at the West Virginia and Regional History Center. 

I tracked down a son and granddaughter of an African American coal miner from Logan, West Virginia, who wrote one song that happened to get recorded in the Library of Congress. He was from a little town called Yolyn. I tracked down his family and I was able to share the recording with them. I sang that song over his grave with his granddaughter. 

Part of the work is working with the West Virginia Regional and History Center in getting these archives in a more accessible format for people, so they can go online and download these songs instead of having to go to the library.

What jobs did you have before coming to WVU?

Immediately before I came to WVU, I was the executive director for the Mon Habitat for Humanity. I did that for nine and a half years. 

What has been the best or most enjoyable time/class/moment in your job?

When you get favorable feedback from students throughout the course. When they stay in touch with you and you get success stories when they graduate. When they reach back out to you and let you know what an influence you had on them and prepared them.

What’s one thing you wish you had known in college?

To not worry so much. And I wish I would have exposed myself to more things in college. I don’t feel that I took full advantage of all of the opportunities. I was pretty focused on my career path, which is nothing what I’m doing now. I didn’t go to college for anything I do right now.

If you won a billion dollars, what would you do with the money?

I’m not sure what I would do with that to be honest with you. I would try to do something good in the world. Probably, there would be a lot of environmental justice work. That would probably be a theme of that. That’s what I’d like to think I’d do with it.

What were you most grateful for in 2020?

Having a job. A lot of people didn’t have jobs in 2020. Having a job where I could continue to do what I was doing, though I had to do it in a very different way, but the flexibility was there and the creativity was there. I got to spend a lot of time with my wife and our teenage daughter. So that was an upside: more family time. 


Just for Fun

What are you currently reading? Drake's Fortune

What’s your favorite meal? Pinto beans and cornbread

What’s a song that you can listen to on repeat? Davud Lindley's El Rayo-X

What’s one thing you can’t live without? Love