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 Western Music Association 
Preserving the heritage and music of the American West

by Graham Lees



In August 1988 a group of western music performers and fans met in Las Vegas, Nevada and organised the non-profit making Western Music Association. The purpose was to reserve and promote the traditional and contemporary music of the American West and American Cowboy. Originally started as an Arizona non-profit corporation the WMA has now expanded to several State and regional chapters and is among the forces that are responsible for the current popularity of western music around the world. The WMA has a Board of Curly Musgrave, Belinda Gail and R.W. Hampton in the lobby of Hotel AlbuquerqueDirectors made up of elected volunteers and also an Advisory Board drawn from a wide team of performers, western music fans, music business people, ranchers and working cowboys.

The WMA encourages professional growth for the individual performing members and the development of young up-and-coming performers from the earliest age. There is a lot more to the Western Music Association than promoting individual performers or groups and their music. Their Educational Outreach Program was started as an important way to acquaint students with the musical heritage of the American West, from traditional trail songs, through the era of the silver-screen cowboy, to contemporary western songwriting. WMA members take western music, history and literature to the children of various communities to teach them about the American West's history and heritage that all Americans can call their own.

An annual festival incorporating the WMA Awards takes place each November over a five-day period and for the past few years has been held in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The work of the Annual Western Music Sons Of The San Joaquin Lon, Jack and Joe HannahFestival committee and other WMA activities are accomplished with many hours of volunteer dedication and sponsor contributions.

In 2006 I had the greatest pleasure in accepting a kind invitation to attend the event that was held at the prestigious Hotel Albuquerque situated in the Old Town. Several venues were set-up within the vast ground floor of the hotel to facilitate the many events taking place. Wednesday started things off with a songwriter's college where budding songwriter were offered the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn and hone their skills from top western music songwriters such as Curly Musgrave, Donnie Blanz, Juni Fisher and Dave Stamey. The event proper started on Thursday when workshops took place, vendors set-up their stalls along with music on stage throughout the day in the exhibition hall. Other specialist programming included a harmony and a yodelling contest with certificates going to the winners, plus a discussion of Western Music in B-Western Films. A panel comprising of (historians) O.J. Sykes and Boyd Magers along with Marilyn Tuttle (Mrs Wesley Tuttle), Sharon Willing (Mrs Foy Willing - Riders Of The Purple Sage), Hal Spencer (son of Tim Spencer -Sons Of The Pioneers) and Sherry Bond (daughter of Bobby Bond) took questions from the audience. The evening saw a whole host of artists taking part in a Toast and Jam Tribute Concert to the Sons Of The Pioneers.

Friday continued with numerous concerts within the exhibit hall and two other venues. More workshops took Michael Martin Murphyplace including cowboy poetry, marketing and packaging material for radio airplay and Youth Track workshops offering advice to developing young artists. Friday also saw a luncheon and the Awards Show take place with all of the usual categories for group, male and female vocalists, song, album and songwriter of the year etc., being presented with a fine glass trophy with the recipients name and WMA logo emblazed prominently. There were fourteen categories in all and a full list of winners can be found at the WMA website. Just a handful of recipients included Belinda Gail and Curly Musgrave - Traditional Duo/Group, Juni Fisher - Female Vocalist, Dave Samey - Male Vocalist, Sons Of The San Joaquin - Traditional Album (for Way Out Yonder) and Song of the Year went to R.W. Hampton "For The Freedom" a song R.W. wrote with regards to the events currently taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan. Liz Anderson (mother of country singer Lynn Anderson) was also honoured with a special presentation for her contributions to songwriting for county and western music. Merle Haggard recorded "I'm A Lonesome Fugitive", "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers", "The Worse Is Yet To Come" and "This Town's Not Big Enough" in the mid-60's. Lynn Anderson and her band performed her mother's music as part of the ceremony, and the Sons Of The San Joaquin brought the luncheon to a close with a concert of their own three-part close harmony performance.

Friday evening saw a whole host of performers on stage for the Barn Dance Broadcast hosted by local western radio broadcaster Rick Huff and Hugh McLlennan. The show was very much in the form of WSM's Grand Ole Opry and the WLS National Barn Dance broadcasts. To bring the evening's entertainment to a close, western singer Michael Martin Murphey performed his Lone Cowboy Campfire Concert as a fund-raiser for the WMA. Murph (as he is popularly known) does a lot of benefit concerts for worthy causes. In April Murph and a host of western artists staged a sell-out concert in aid of ranchers and fire fighters when the worst ever wildfires swept through the Texas Panhandle (north-west Texas).

Saturday saw very much the same as previous days with performances in the various venue set-ups within Dancers Betty and Doug at the Swing Dancethe hotel. A silent action for numerous western items and memorabilia plus a raffle for a Martin guitar also took place. The evening featured a grand dinner followed by entertainment by many western artists taking to the stage and eagerly aided and abetted by Wyoming radio presenters Andy & Jim Nelson with their hilarious brand of comedy directed at anybody and everyone. This sensational evening was brought to a close with a swing dance to the music of local band the Curio Cowboys.

This brought us to Sunday morning and the Cowboy Church & Gospel Show with many of the previous days entertainers taking part and followed by a survivor's lunch, before everyone packed up and made their way home.

The WMA annual festival and awards show ran smoothly and efficiently once again and an appealing experience. I'd just like to thank membership director Martha Short for the invitation along with Doug & Betty Carter and Jim & Ann Anderson for their wonderful hospitality during my stay in New Mexico and Texas. The WMA's own quarterly Western Way magazine is the only professional magazine dedicated to the promotion of western music. It preserves the stories and songs of western music performers from the past and gives voice to the current crop of songwriters and musicians. Articles about the music heritage are published side-by-side with reviews of new recordings and information about cowboy gatherings, concerts and festivals. Check out the WMA website http://www.westernmusic.org/

Keep Riding High……Graham Lees