About The Artist
Cecil Surratt enjoyed a career that was based primarily in the Bluefield, West Virginia area. At times his music favored bluegrass, country, folk, and gospel. A "jack of all trades," he also enjoyed success as a radio and TV announcer and dabbled in children's television.
A native of Coalwood in rugged McDowell County, Cecil got his first radio experience at newly opened WBBW in Welch, West Virginia in 1941. He also worked in the coal mines and played baseball at 2nd base for the Coalwood Robins. Toward the end of the war, Surratt entered military service. After returning from the service he recorded singles on the M. & L., Howard, and Rich-R-Tone labels. Cecil married in 1950 and moved to Bluewell near Bluefield. Out of music for a time, he then started playing with a squaredance band and emceeing shows at the Bluefield City Auditorium. In 1956, he went to work at WHIS radio and TV in Bluefield. He remained there for ten years, becoming a virtual institution.
Cecil hit his peak at Bluefield with partner King Edward (Smitty) Smith IV (B: July 13, 1931 — April 23, 1981). Smith was a talented instrumentalist from Salem, Virginia, in their band the Swing Kings. At times such figures as Melvin Goins and Mel Street appeared on their program. From 1958 through 1963, they recorded a variety of singles and a pair of albums, one released on King's budget label Audio Lab. Their most memorable number was "Montani Semper Liberi" or "Mountaineers Always Free," for the West Virginia Centennial (Buddy Starcher had another title "Star 35"). Aside from music, he also did a children's program for a time in which he hosted such shorts as those of the Three Stooges.
In 1960 Cecil and Smitty took part in West Virginia's first International Folk Music Festival staged in the green forests of Coonskin Park, near Charleston. Some of the other entertainment included Creole music, a Scotch bagpiper, Scandinavian folk songs an dances and an "old country" Bavarian 14-piece brass ensemble.
Surratt departed from WHIS in 1966, but often returned for special programs especially fund raisers. Shortly after leaving, he took a good paying job for U. S. Steel at their coal works in Gary, WV. When the plant closed in 1986, he retired.
In 1983, he was laid off from his job at a coal mine in West Virgnia. He used part of his unemployment checks to finance a recording about the hard times that jobless people faced. That recording was "Pittsburg City." He recorded the song one year after he was among 1,300 people laid off from U. S. Steel's Gary division. An article informs readers the song was about a many who left West Virginia and landed a job with U. S. Steel in Pittsburgh. He met a little girl from Steubenville, Ohio but broke up with her after finding her with another man. But in the end, he gets laid off by U. S. Steel ... "All the good times are past and gone and I'm left here all alone, stading in this long unemployment line."
He remained as choir director at his Baptist Church at Bluewell. Cecil also recorded an LP on Upper Room God Is Near and a cassette Amazing Love (Springtime C 0457) and at least two singles on the Upland label. Binge records in Germany did an LP East of Eden (LP 1008) in 1987. In 2012, BACM in England released a CD Last Mile of the Way (CD 389) containing many of their King efforts.
Cecil died at 80, doing his last show three weeks before his death. He was survived by his wife, Ruth Blevins Surratt who he married on October 5, 1950 in Clintwood, Virgnia. Ruth passed away in August 2019 at the age of 88.
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