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Gospel singer to receive 2006 Vandalia Award

The Vandalia Award, West Virginia’s highest folklife honor, will be presented to singer, pianist, choir leader and educator Ethel Caffie-Austin of Dunbar on Saturday, May 27, as part of the 30th annual Vandalia Gathering. The award will be given to Caffie-Austin during a 6:30 p.m. ceremony and concert in the Norman L. Fagan West Virginia State Theater in the Cultural Center. Caffie-Austin will perform the festival finale concert in the theater on Sunday, May 28, at 6 p.m.

The West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History presents the Vandalia Award annually to a West Virginian who has made outstanding contributions to the continuation of the state’s folk heritage. The award recognizes lifetime achievement in the performance, creation or perpetuation of West Virginia traditional arts. The Vandalia Gathering, an annual three-day festival of traditional arts and folk heritage, is celebrated Memorial Day weekend at the Cultural Center and State Capitol grounds in Charleston. More than 40,000 people attend the three-day festival each year.

A native of Mount Hope, Caffie-Austin is known as West Virginia’s “First Lady of Gospel Music.” She began playing piano at the age of six, started accompanying church services at nine and directed her first choir at age 11.

Throughout her life, she has carried on a rich tradition of African-American gospel singing, piano playing and worship. She has taken her music and ministry into prisons, schools and government housing projects, and has performed at festivals across the country and in Europe.

She also is in demand as a clinician and often presents gospel workshops in conjunction with the Vandalia Gathering. She founded the Black Sacred Music Festival at West Virginia State University in Institute and has several recordings and an instructional videotape to her credit. She was the subject of a 1999 documentary film entitled “His Eye Is On the Sparrow” and a 1997 Goldenseal magazine article, “Hand-Clapping and Hallelujahs: A Visit with Ethel Caffie-Austin.”

Caffie-Austin graduated from West Virginia Technical College in Montgomery, taught school in the state for 20 years, and in 1997, received an honorary doctorate from Davis & Elkins College in Elkins.

She is the 26th recipient of the Vandalia Award. Last year, Lester McCumbers of Nicut was honored. For more information about the Vandalia Award or the Vandalia Gathering, call (304) 558-0220.

The West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. Visit the Division’s website at for more information about the Vandalia Gathering and other programs of the Division. The Department of Arts, Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.

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MEDIA NOTE: Publicity photos may be downloaded from the Division’s website at

Ginny Painter
Deputy Commissioner/Communications Manager
West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History
The Cultural Center
1900 Kanawha Blvd., East
Charleston, WV  25305
Phone (304) 558-0220, ext. 120
Fax (304) 558-2779
Email [email protected]