Marion County’s Famous Artists, Musicians and MoreJuly 15, 2016
From our Fairmont’s First Friday concerts to our Palatine Park events, from our small coffee shop shindigs at Joe n’ Throw to the live music at Heston Farm, we love the arts in Marion County!
Whether in the realm of film, music, art or comics, check out these particularly stunning people of the arts from Marion County:
Johnnie Johnson (1924-2005)
When speaking about famous Marion County musicians, you won’t hear a name mentioned more than Johnnie Johnson.
From his humble beginnings in Fairmont, Johnson grew into a legend in the hearts of jazz, blues and rock enthusiasts all around the globe. Yet it all began when Johnnie was a four year old beginning piano player, filling Marion County with his music.
Johnson continued to play in Marion County until he joined the Marine Corps in World War II. During his service, he played with an all-serviceman jazz orchestra, the Barracudas, and continued to hone his skills.
Upon returning, Johnson left to pursue fame in Detroit, Chicago and other cities before arriving in St. Louis and creating his own jazz trio—The St. John’s Trio.
His stroke of destiny came one New Year’s Eve night when a band member had suffered a stroke. Johnson needed a last minute replacement, and he hired a man named Chuck Berry—a name that would bring Johnson right into rock n’ roll.
Berry and Johnson collaborated on many songs, and they toured together continually until 1973. Johnnie’s legacy grew and grew until he became known to some as the “Father of Rock n’ Roll.”
Johnson never forgot his roots as a small town boy and was known for taking other musicians under his wing, no matter where he traveled.
He came back to his hometown of Fairmont in his later life for the Johnnie Johnson Festival—an annual Marion County celebration of his life, legacy and love of music that’s a must-see every July!
John Knowles (1926-2001)
Knowles began his journey in Fairmont, the son of a coal company vice-president. After attending St. Peter’s High School for two years, Knowles’ parents sent him to a private boys’ boarding school in New Hampshire—Phillip Exeter, the setting of his future classic, A Separate Piece.
After serving in the army for two years during World War II, Knowles attended Yale University, where he wrote humorous pieces and news for campus publications.
Fellow writer Thornton Wilder helped convince Knowles to begin writing, and after a time, Knowles composed his masterpiece.
A Separate Peace was published in 1951, describing a very similar boys’ school to Knowles’s own alma mater, Phillip Exeter. The story follows the narrator Gene and his best friend Finny, on their quest to grow up and their loss of innocence during a summer session.
While Knowles has said many of the story’s elements are from his own experiences, including falling out of a tree and joining a secret society, the novel is not purely autobiographical.
Knowles received much critical acclaim for his most famous novel and another later work, Peace Breaks Out. His awards include the William Faulkner Award and the Rosenthal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
Robert Tinnell (1961— )
Frankenstein and the Feast of the Seven Fishes have something in common in the life of film director and graphic novelist Robert Tinnell.
Born in Fairmont, Tinnell grew up in a family of Italian heritage who celebrated by eating fish on Christmas Eve. This knowledge of the Feast of the Seven Fishes led him to later write a graphic comic strip and cookbook on the occasion.
Tinnell’s love of classic horror led him to the movies, where he has directed several popular classic horror films, including Frankenstein and Me, starring Burt Reynolds, Louise Fletcher and Ryan Gosling.
Tinnell has also produced several music videos, including one with Paula Abdul, and he has many graphic novels that are well-known.
He and his wife live in Morgantown, where Tinnell works on a variety of projects, including a webcomic chronicling his son’s autism.
Take a run down to Leisure Time Video or check out more of Tinnell’s works online for some spooky fun!
Tom Wilson (1931-2011)
According to those who knew him well, Wilson was born drawing. He loved art so much that he attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh after serving in the U.S. Army during the 30s.
Wilson moved to Cleveland after his graduation to work in the creative department of American Greetings, eventually serving as director and later president of the “Those Characters from Cleveland” line, which included such characters as Strawberry Shortcake and the Care Bears.
After his drawings were discovered of a character sketch, he was asked to add words and a name to the character that became one of America’s most beloved klutzes—Ziggy.
Ziggy began showing up in newspapers, lunch boxes, candy, cups and even on television! The 1992 animated program “Ziggy’s Gift” won an Emmy for its portrayal of the loveable loafer.
Wilson taught his son Tom, Jr. to pick up the Ziggy comic strip after him, while continuing to work on other projects. He may be most well-known for Ziggy, but Wilson also was a talented painter with works exhibited in the Cleveland Museum of Art and the yearly Society of Illustrations show.
Fred Martin Torrey (1884-1967)
Fred Martin Torrey was born in Fairmont in 1884 and attended schools here before leaving to pursue his passion for sculpting at the Art Institute of Chicago.While there, he studied under master sculptors and met his wife, a fellow sculptor.
He and his wife Mabel opened an art studio across the street from the University of Chicago, where Torrey perfected his skills as he sculpted famous historical figures.
His most famous work, “Lincoln Walks at Midnight” (1933), was displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair, and later was cast into a nine-and-one-foot bronze sculpture near the state capitol in Charleston.
This work was inspired by the 1914 poem, “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight,” by Vachel Lindsay. It showed Lincoln as troubled in his sleep by the horrors of World War I and modern warfare.
Torrey sculpted a number of historical figures, including George Washington, George Washington Carver and his last sculpture of John F. Kennedy.
John Forrest “Fuzzy” Knight (1901-1976)
Born in Fairmont to parents who owned the Fairmont Theater, Knight went on to attend West Virginia University as an award-winning cheerleader and law student before leaving school to pursue the stage.
Some said he came up with his stage name for vaudeville and film because his family had a dog named “Fuzzy” while others credited his soft voice with inspiring the nickname.
After appearing on Broadway, Knight went to Hollywood, where his first roles were mostly small singing ones. The actress Mae West gave him his first big break in She Done Him Wrong, and he continued to develop his star as one of the funniest cowpokes in the business.
During the 1950s, Knight starred in the TV series Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion as sidekick to Buster Crabbe letting a whole new audience join in with his humor and smile.
Doris Piserchia (1928— )
From aliens to feminist science fiction, Doris Piserchia has pioneered a world few women dared to explore.
Born in Fairmont to poor parents, Piserchia worked as a lifeguard while attending Fairmont State College to get her degree in Physical Education. Rather than teach, however, she decided to join the Navy for four years.
While in the Navy, Piserchia met an Army solider who she married and travelled around the world with. While he did a tour of duty in Vietnam, Piserchia worked on a master’s degree in educational psychology and discovered her great love of science fiction.
She began writing and was first published in 1973, while taking care of a large household of children, a husband with a weak heart, and her horses she loved to ride.
Piserchia published thirteen works and illustrated such issues as aliens, the New Wave and feminism as she wrote.
Check out Kerri’s Korner Bookstore to order some of her works!
Joe Cerisano (1951— )
Joe Cerisano was always a risk-taker, even back in his childhood days in Fairmont.
Born to play music, Cerisano spent his youth playing with older bands in speakeasies, teen dances and clubs where alcohol was sold in the dry West Virginia state.
While still in high school, Cerisano auditioned and was asked to play in the popular band J.B. and the Bonnevilles after J.B. leaves. He toured with them before forming his own local band—Joey and the House of Bourbon.
Cerisano helped form the band Elderberry Jak, securing a record deal in Memphis, before moving on to other bands and gigs.
His famous break came when he and his friend Earl Slick founded the Silver Condors, securing a sizable record deal and recording a Top 40 song, “You Could Take My Heart Away.”
After the breakup of the Silver Condors, Cerisano did work for a number of commercials for various companies, including Coca-Cola and the United States Army. He also recorded backup vocals on several Michael Bolton albums and other artists’ works.
In 2000, Cerisano returned to Fairmont for the West Virginia Mountain stage at Fairmont State University, delighting the town he had played in so long ago.
Love our artistic heritage around Marion County? Check out more local artists on display at the Arts and Antiques Marketplace, Joe n’ Throw, Heston Farm, Sagebrush Round-Up, Fairmont’s First Friday concerts and more!