Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

September 4, 2006

Legendary local performer Cecil Surratt dies at 80

BLUEFIELD — Cecil Surratt, one of the region’s most beloved musicians, passed away Sunday afternoon following a 15-month long battle with pancreatic cancer. Surratt, 80, started singing and playing his guitar in church as a child, and never stopped sharing the gospel through his musical gifts.

Surratt was born in Coalwood, McDowell County, but by the time he was 14 years old, he had his own radio show in Welch. He entered the military service near the end of World War II, and when he came home, he resumed his musical career and also played baseball for the Coalwood Robins coalfield baseball team. He also performed music on the radio and for dances, and in 1955 he married his wife, Ruth, who remained his constant companion through his life. After they married, the Surratts moved to a home in Bluewell located on Surratt Street.

“We had a show that aired on Saturday nights called the ‘Country Jamboree,’” Ray Brooks, former production director of WHIS-TV (now WVVA) said. “Cecil came up from Welch with his singing group and performed on the show. After he was here a few times, he asked me if I could find a job for him at the station. I hired him to edit film. Everything was shot on 16 millimeter film back then. He had to cut the film and splice in the commercials.”

“Hugh I. Shott Jr., wanted a country music show that he could broadcast on television,” Don Whitt said. “Hiring Cecil was about the same thing as when the coal companies hired good baseball players. They were hired as coal miners, but they were there to play baseball. Cecil was hired to edit film, but he was there to play music.”

Whitt joined the WHIS staff as an engineer in 1958, but after Surratt heard him play piano, he recruited Whitt to play with the Swing Kings. “We had a captive audience,” Whitt said. “There weren’t any other broadcasts around here, so we developed a big following. Cecil hired Buddy Pennington who had been with Bill Monroe and we had Ronnie Cochran, Smitty Smith, Gordon Jennings, Mel Street, Darnell Miller, Jack Altizer, Buck Dillon and several others with us.” Surratt and Smith signed with King Records in Cincinnati, Ohio, but stayed local and didn’t promote their record to the expectations of the label.

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