Area blues legend remembered
The blues carried “Bowling Green” John Cephas around the world—from Guatemala to Africa to Russia.
The renowned guitarist enjoyed introducing new audiences to his Piedmont blues—a complex finger-picking style that was born in the mid-Atlantic states.
But the traveling wore him down, and Cephas always longed for his Caroline County home—a yearning so deep he composed a song called “Caroline in the Morning.”
His daughter LaVerne once asked her father why he wrote the song.
“He told me, ‘When I come home, there’s nothing like looking out that window early in the morning in Caroline County. That’s what brings me peace.’”
Saturday, the blues man was honored in the hometown he loved so much as a highway historical marker was unveiled in Bowling Green.
The Bowling Green Arts Commission held a dedication at the new marker, which is on Main Street. A musical tribute was held later at the Caroline County Community Services Center.
There, the late musician’s 11-year-old granddaughter, Ortisha Wilson, kicked things off by performing “I Will Always Love You,” and a group of blues artists paid homage to Cephas with toe-tapping Piedmont blues tunes.
Cephas grew up in Washington, D.C., and in Caroline during segregation, a painful period which helped shape his blues music.
But his children remember the music as the soundtrack to family parties.
Cephas—who was an electrical worker, a master carpenter, a fisherman and a Korean War veteran—also practiced picking the steel guitar while watching “Hee Haw” while his children impatiently waited for their turn to watch TV.
His children remembered Cephas as a disciplinarian who expected good manners and who could express disapproval simply by sliding his ever-present ballcap.
Cephas was also so humble that his children didn’t realize he was famous, despite the fact that he was named a “National Folk Treasure.”
Cephas won many awards throughout his career, including the National Heritage Fellowship Award and the African–American Trailblazers Award, which he received shortly before his death in 2009.
The legendary musician never hesitated to mentor other artists, said Jeff Place, curator of the Smithsonian Folk Life Collection.
“He was just a good-hearted, warm guy. This thing here couldn’t be for a nicer guy,” Place said, standing in front of the new highway marker.
Phil Wiggins—the other half of the blues duo Cephas and Wiggins—traveled from Maryland to see the new marker. He and Cephas created 13 albums together and traveled throughout the world performing the blues.
Wiggins considered Cephas an ambassador of Piedmont blues.
“But John was never at home on the road. This was his home,” Wiggins said.
Cephas was often known simply by his nickname—“Bowling Green.”
“He never ceased to amaze me,” Wiggins said. “The town of Bowling Green has been well-represented over the years.”
Amy Umble: 540/735-1973