Proceeds from the Virginia Opry’s “Country Christmas with Charles Billingsley” at the Natural Bridge Historic Hotel and Conference Center on Tues. Dec. 21, at 7:00 p.m. will benefit tornado victims in Ky.
M. Ray Allen, a native of Martin, Ky. who founded Appalfolks of America Association (AAA) in 1985, said, “I wish to thank Charles Billingsley and the members of The Virginia Opry who will be opening for him Tuesday night for pledging a generous portion of their performance fees to benefit the victims of the Kentucky tornadoes.”
AAA has a 36-year history of helping others by performing musical benefits. Shortly after the Twin Towers were destroyed by terrorists on 9/11 in 2001, AAA organized and conducted a musical benefit at Robert E. Lee High School in Staunton that resulted in $1,200 being donated to the 9/11 Fund.
The most recent musical benefit that AAA organized and staged in conjunction with Love’s Travel Center was at The Historic Masonic Theatre in Oct. of 2019 when more than $500 was raised and donated to the Children’s Miracle Network.
Allen noted, “Due to COVID-19 and Governor Ralph S. Northam’s “Executive Order 53” rendered in March of 2020 and aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, The Virginia Opry was forced to cancel all but one of its shows.”
Other musical benefits organized by AAA and performed by members of The Virginia Opry and other musicians and vocalists who have volunteered to perform for AAA have aided many organizations and needy individuals in the Alleghany Highlands.
“Our musical benefits have helped Total Action Against Poverty (TAP), the Alleghany Highlands Literacy Volunteers, the Clifton Forge Public Library, the Clifton Forge Little League and the Alleghany Highlands Free Clinic,” Allen recalled.
Allen has been elected by AAA’s board of directors each year for 36 years to serve as AAA’s president, and Allen visited with Billie Jean Osborne, founder of the Kentucky Opry, in 1992, the year after Irwin R. Cohen, owner of R-C Theatres in Reisterstown, Md.; donated the Historic Stonewall Theatre to AAA.
“Billie Jean and my mother were teachers in the Floyd County School District, and Billie Jean, a music teacher at Betsy Layne High School, had just founded the Kentucky Opry that the Mountain Art Center in Prestonsburg, Ky. would be built to house,” Allen remembered.
After consulting with Osborne, he returned to Clifton Forge and persuaded AAA’s board of directors to found The Virginia Opry that debuted in the Historic Stonewall Theatre on Oct. 17, 1992, with Ray Tucker of Selma serving as the first artistic director. Governor Northam signed “Senate Bill 283” on March 31, 2020 that designates The Virginia Opry as the Commonwealth of Virginia’s official Opry.
The Natural Bridge Historic Hotel designated its venue as The Virginia Opry’s official “Resort Performance Home” in July of 2021. The Virginia Opry made its debut in the hotel’s Washington Hall in Oct. with Michael Hoover and His Show Band performing “Memories of Elvis.”
Other designations have been received by The Virginia Opry, including being designated by WKEY Radio Station’s 103.5 Big Country as “The Radio Home of the Virginia Opry” on May 2, 2019 and being designated by the Town of Clifton Forge’s Town Council on a 5-0 vote in Oct. to designate the Town of Clifton Forge as the Opry’s official home.
Allen added, “Appalfolks will donate to a charity that is currently on the ground helping those tornado victims in need of help in Western Ky., and should there be a profit from producing the Christmas show, Appalfolks will donate a generous portion of the profit as well.”
In other words, a portion of the payments that would have been made to the performers along with a generous portion of any profit that might be made from producing the show will be donated to a nonprofit charity currently providing aid to the victims.
“Appalfolks is not set up to provide aid to tornado victims directly, but our nonprofit is capable of helping by organizing and performing musical benefits for others in need,” Allen concluded.
AAA made more than $200,000 worth of restoration improvements to the Historic Stonewall Theatre before donating the theatre to the Town of Clifton Forge in 2003. The Town of Clifton Forge restored the theatre’s original name, the Masonic Theatre.
The editors of “Encyclopedia of Appalachia” published by the University of Tenn. Press in 2006 praised Allen as an Appalachian activist and poet whose work with AAA had benefited Appalachian youth via its programs at the Stonewall Theatre.
Tickets for The Virginia Opry’s “Christmas with Charles Billingsley” are $40 each and can be purchased by visiting www.natrualbridgeva.com or by visiting The Virginia Opry’s website.
Glen Shelton and Jana Allen will perform as vocalists and co-emcee the show that was not organized as a benefit to begin with because the tornadoes had not struck. Following the tornadoes that killed 77 and left a path of destruction 200 miles long, Allen contacted the performers who agreed to contribute to the benefit fund that will be donated.
Billingsley is a nationally prominent Christian songwriter and recording artist with more than 24 albums to his credit, and he is nationally known for his musical ministries at David Jeremiah’s Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego, Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University in Lynchburg.