By Jeff Louderback
It was a dream, but to a fortysomething man who had just lost his father at the age 83, the vision seemed vivid and real. For rising bluegrass musician Mark Whitt, the emotionally inspiring moment remains etched in his mind.
“In the dream, my dad was hovering above me. He was wearing a cream-colored suit and looked like a healthy and much younger man without the skin cancer. I heard fiddles playing, and the harmony sounded so comforting and peaceful,” Whitt said of that evening three days after Vinson Whitt passed away. “He didn’t speak, but he gave me a sense that he was OK and that he was in heaven. I woke up with tears in my eyes, walked downstairs, pulled out a notepad and wrote down words describing what had just happened.”
Though Whitt shared a love of bluegrass and Southern gospel music with his parents and family since growing up in Xena, Ohio – and he was a proficient with the mandolin and acoustic guitar – he had only penned a few songs before the dream. He transformed the words into one of the original titles on his recently released CD, “Over You.” The song, I Heard Sweet Music Playing, is written as a conversation between Whitt and his father.
“I heard sweet music playing
I heard my daddy say
Watch over my family and guide them
As they travel Gods highway
So play that fiddle play it
Play that sweet music I say
Someday I’ll join you in heaven
And will meet again that day
I’ll continue on life’s long journey
I’ll continue on my way
Someday I’ll meet you in heaven
And will meet again that day”
Spurred by his own father’s love for bluegrass and Southern gospel, Whitt has long been influenced by the founding fathers of the genre, like Bill Monroe, The Stanley Brothers and Flatt and Scruggs. Defined by a traditional bluegrass voice, the 46-year-old father of two has honored the greats with covers in “Over You” and on his first CD, “Fly Me Home,” which was released in 2013. Based on his family’s heritage, Whitt was bound to become an accomplished musician.
“My parents were born and raised in large families in Elliott County in eastern Kentucky in a region where Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley have their roots, and music was a prominent part of their lives from an early age,” Whitt said. “Growing up, every morning my dad would have bluegrass playing on the record player, and both of my parents had their own musical talents. Every family reunion centered around music, food and conversation. It was a way of life.”
As a teenager, Whitt took an interest in the mandolin and the acoustic guitar, and as the years passed he developed his own vocal style, performing with his band at regional venues. It was not until he recorded the first original song on “Fly Me Home” that he was moved to transform his passion into professional music. Produced by skilled instrumentalist Clay Hess, who performed on several songs as well, most of the album featured covers of bluegrass classics, but the title track is a gospel number that speaks of the joy of ascending to heaven. It was written days before his father’s death. Bluegrass Today writer John Goad praised Whitt’s first original song, saying it was reminiscent of Flatt and Scruggs’ gospel style. Goad added that Whitt’s version of Flatt and Scruggs’ Before I Met You “seems to be a bit slower than the original, which actually makes it a little more heartfelt” and that his cover of Some Old Day leans a little closer to the J.D. Crowe and the New South version from the 1970s.”
The song Over You, which tells the story of healing from a broken heart, reached No. 1 on the AirPlay Direct charts and is building momentum on stations nationwide. The album “Over You” is seeing similar success.
“That encouragement and response from my ‘Fly Me Home’ gave me the confidence and motivation to dig deeper for my next album, and the result is ‘Over You.’” said Whitt, who has been married to Mariann for 22 years and has two children, Nate, 10 and Sophie, 22. “”Bluegrass music is passionate, deep rooted and eloquently tells stories of life experiences. This is what makes traditional bluegrass and gospel music so unique and special. My goal is to continue gaining and touching fans through my devotion to keeping traditional bluegrass music alive, just as my dad did so for me.”
For more information, visit www.markwhitttruebluegrass.com.