The Southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky area has a rich history of accomplished musicians and entertainers who have had their roots here and have gone on to become nationally and internationally recognized for their talents.
A number of these artists are pictured on this mural and include opera singers, country music stars, rock and roll recording artists, actors, concert pianists, folk singers, song writers, and Christian rock bands.
Jan Cooley – Acclaimed Pianist
A 1973 graduate of Portsmouth West High School, Jan Cooley began her piano studies at age four and went on to win over thirty solo piano competitions throughout her career.
She received degrees in piano and music education from the University of Cincinnati and in conducting from Butler University and spent ten years as an assistant conductor in European opera houses, and was the leading coach at the prestigious Deutsche Oper am Rhein, an opera company based in Düsseldorf and Duisburg.
As an educator, she was a member of the faculty of Shenandoah University, Butler University, the Bay View Music Festival, and the American Institute of Musical Studies.
Jan was inducted into the Portsmouth West, Alumni Hall of Fame in 2014.
Along with her accomplishments in the arts and education, Jan was also named Miss Ohio and was the Grand Talent winner at the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City in 1977.
Jeffrey Tarr – Opera and Concert Singer
Jeffrey Tarr has appeared with the Washington National Opera, Opera Bel Cantanti, Opera Vivente, Urban Arias, Baltimore Concert Opera, Chesapeake Chamber Opera, and Maryland Concert Opera.
Jeffrey is a prize winner in the Annapolis Opera Competition, the Orpheus Vocal Competition, the Marie Crump Vocal Competition and the Gretchen Hood Vocal Competition, and has presented four recital programs at prestigious venues throughout the DC area including the Kennedy Center and the Odeon Concert Series.
Jonathan Burton – Accomplished Opera Tenor
Studying at Westminster Choir College as well as the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, Johnathan’s been praised for having “thrilling power and beauty” (Baltimore Sun) and for being “an engaging all-around singer with a powerful, full-bodied sound.”
Johnathan has appeared with Dayton Opera, Utah Opera, Opera Naples, Castleton Festival, Sinfónica de Galicia under the baton of Lorin Maazel, Kentucky Opera, Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman, Annapolis Opera, Opera New Jersey, Utah Festival Opera, Opera on the James, Central City Opera, Lyric Opera of Virginia, Palm Beach Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Palm Beach Opera, Southern Ohio Light Opera Company – where he performed over twenty leading roles with the company, including Alfred in Die Fledermaus, Camille in The Merry Widow, and Caliph in Kismet – the, Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, Lexington Philharmonic, and the Southern Ohio Symphony.
Faith Esham – Internationally Known Opera Soprano
Faith Esham studied at Juilliard, receiving her master’s degree in in music in 1978, was an apprentice at Santa Fe, joined the New York City Opera in 1977 as a mezzo, and, following her successful Metropolitan Opera debut as Marzelline in Fidelio, went on to critical acclaim for performances in the leading Opera Houses throughout the United States and Europe.
Appearing opposite Placido Domingo and Julia Migenes in the highly acclaimed Gaumont film, Carmen, she earned a Grammy Award as principal soloist and best opera recording in 1984.
Her other roles include Mimi with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Pamina in Washington, D.C., Micaela and Juliette in Cincinnati, the heroines in Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Manon, and Gilda in Pittsburgh. At the New York City Opera, she performed Manon, Cendrillon, Marguerite, Leila, Baby Doe, Ännchen, Gilda, and Floyd’s Susannah, and she was fortunate to sing both Cherubino and Marzelline at Italy’s leading opera house, La Scala.
Faith is a recipient of both the Walter W. Naumberg Award and the Concours International de Chant de Paris, and has been featured in two New York City Opera “Live from Lincoln Center” broadcasts as Pamina and Gilda.
In 2000 Faith joined the faculty of Westminster Choir College of Rider University as an adjunct assistant professor of voice.
Ovid Young – Pianist, Organist, Composer, and Conductor
With nearly 7000 performances spanning four decades, Ovid Young performed in the United States, England, Germany, Austria, France, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Canada, Denmark, India and the Caribbean.
An accomplished organist, Ovid was able to play many of the largest and most unique organs in the United States, including the instruments at the Crystal Cathedral, the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, the US Air Fore Academy Chapel, and the Wanamaker Grand Court organ in Philadelphia.
His orchestral appearances include included the English Chamber Orchestra, the English Symphony Orchestra, the Seoul (Korea) Philharmonic, the Bohuslav Martinu (Czech Republic) Philharmonic, the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Aarhus (Denmark) Symphony, the Florida Philharmonic and symphonies of Pittsburgh, Denver, Phoenix and Nashville.
Ovid has many compositions and arrangements published by several American publishers, and was a composer of orchestral scores for several feature length films, as well as more than 3000 performances and 15 albums with the operatic singing duo of Robert Hale and Dean Wilder.
He was Olivet Nazarene University’s Artist In Residence and professor as well as a 1962 alumnus, and was the musical director and conductor for the Kankakee Valley Symphony Orchestra from 1974-1984.
Kellie Maguire – Broadway Performer
Kellie Maguire began her career by taking vocal lessons from local vocal teachers Shirley Crothers and Lucy Dye, making her stage debut at Portsmouth Little Theater, but she reached the pinnacle of her profession by appearing on Broadway as Dorothy Wainwright in It’s A Wonderful Life at New York’s Shubert Theater.
She has performed in numerous Off-Broadway productions, including Tom Sawyer and Swingtime Canteen, as well as various commercials, television programs, and her own show on Carnival and Norwegian cruise ships.
Clyde Fenton – Singer and Musician
Clyde Fenton began performing in the 1960’s with his sister, Hilda Fenton Doyle, with their acoustic group “Clyde and Hilda Duo”, winning a national talent search, and appearing on the TV show “Where the Action Is” with Dick Clark.
Since then, when not seeing patients at his optometry practice, he has been part of several different bands, forming and leading the longtime local favorite Doc Roc and The Remedies from 2000-2019, as well as Clyde Fenton and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Hilda Fenton – Singer and Musician
Hilda Fenton Doyle began performing with her brother – Clyde Fenton – as the acoustic “Clyde and Hilda Duo” in 1968, appearing on the TV show “Where the Action Is” with Dick Clark after winning a national talent search.
Hilda has gone on to perform with several different bands, as well as being a solo artist, playing multiple instruments including guitar, banjo, bass, mandolin, and various styles and genres from light rock to jazz, blues, and Celtic, leading the Celtic group The Ladies of Longford with her daughters Heather and Stephanie.
Stuff Smith – Jazz Violinist
Born in Portsmouth in 1909 as Hezekiah Leroy Gordon Smith , the 1920’s saw Stuff as a member of Alphone Trent’s band in Texas, eventually relocating to New York to play with his sextet at the Onyx Club in the 30’s. During this time he also played with greats like Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sun Ra.
Strings Magazine described Stuff Smith this way
“Stuff pushed jazz forward from the inside, at a time when the music was becoming jazz. He toured with Jelly Roll Morton in the 1920s. In the 1930s, Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz used to go hear Stuff play jazz clubs; they sometimes sat in on piano. His idol, Louis Armstrong, recorded a song Stuff co-wrote, “It’s Wonderful.” Stuff later recorded with Nat “King” Cole. And you could describe his solo on Ella Fitzgerald’s 1956 recording of “Sophisticated Lady” as a gem of modern jazz sophistication.”
After being signed to Vocalion Records in 1936, he had a hit with “I’se a Muggin'” and was billed as Stuff Smith and His Onyx Club Boys. He recorded for Vocalion in 1936, Decca in 1937, and Varsity in 1939–1940, and is featured in several numbers on the Nat King Cole Trio album, After Midnight.
He is credited as being the first violinist to use electric amplification techniques on a violin.
Clyde McCoy – Jazz Musician
Clyde McCoy is best remembered for his theme song, Sugar Blues – his hit song in 1931 and 1935, both in Columbia and Decca versions, and returned to Billboard Magazine’s Country chart in 1941. Johnny Mercer also had a hit vocal release of it in 1947.
Moving with his family to Portsmouth in 1912, Clyde performed regularly at church and school events, eventually leading to performances on riverboats coming out of Cincinnati by 1917, and the sidewheelers Island Queen and Bernard McSwain – as the one the youngest musicians on the river. By 1920, after hearing of an opening in Knoxville, Tennessee, he was performing with a group of musicians as The Clyde McCoy Orchestra.
By the time of The Great Depression, and leading into Clyde’s services during WWII, Clyde and his orchestra were recording non-stop for Decca Records Associated Transcriptions. He went on to also record for Mercury, Capital, and Vocalion Records.
McCoy is also known for his signature “wah-wah” sound – something he developed in the late 1920’s. The success of this sound lead to it being licensed to the King Instrument Company, and eventually to Vox Amps creating and releasing the Vox Clyde McCoy Wah-Wah Pedal in 1967.
Clyde was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording, after having a nearly seven decade career.
Shane Keister – Award Winning Studio Musician
Known for his work as a studio musician, writer, arranger, and producer, working with a range of musicians including Elvis Presley, Billy Joel, Amy Grant, and Michael W. Smith, Shane began playing the piano at the age of three studying piano by his high school years was the accompanist for the Portsmouth High School Choir under the direction of Charles P. Varney.
By 1972, Keister had moved to Nashville where he quickly established himself as a very capable and well-rounded studio musician. His career flourished and in the late 80’s, he composed and produced the musical scores for Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam and Ernest Goes to Camp. In 1989 Shane relocated to New York to work with Ahmet Ertegun as a staff producer/arranger at Atlantic Records, where is stayed until 2000.
Keister won a Dove Award for Instrumental Album of the Year for the album “The Players” in 1997, and also co-produced and arranged Don Francisco’s 1977 record “Forgiven”, not only working as a producer, but also contributing both acoustic and electric piano, and synthesizers parts to the album.
Read more about Shane Keister’s credits
Cowboy Copas – Country Music Singer
Born in Blue Creek, Ohio in 1913, Lloyd Copas – known for his tenor delivery and flat-top guitar picking style – took the stage name Cowboy Copas and began performing with his band, the Gold Star Rangers, following a move from Cincinnati to Knoxville, Tennesse in 1940.
In 1943 Copas replaced Eddy Arnold as a vocalist in the Pee Wee King Band, and began performing on the Grand Ole Opry, seeing his first solo single, “Filipino Baby” released by King Records in 1946, where it hit number four on the Billbaord Country Chart. Over the next decade, Copas would release several more hits, including “Signed Sealed and Delivered”, “The Tennessee Waltz”, “Tennessee Moon”, “Breeze”, “I’m Waltzing with Tears in My Eyes”, “Candy Kisses”, “Hangman’s Boogie”, and “The Strange Little Girl”, and another Billboard Country Chart appearance at number eight with “Tis Sweet to Be Remembered”.
Copas had several hits with Starday Records in the 1960’s, such as the number one charting “Alabam”, a remake of “Signed, Sealed and Delivered”, and “Flat Top”.
In 1963 Copas was aboard the same ill-fated flight as country stars Patsy Cline and Hawkshaw Hawkins, crashing near Camden, Tennessee following a concert is Kansas City, Kansas.
Roy Rogers – King of the Cowboys
Known as the “King of the Cowboys”, Roy Rogers appeared in over 100 films, numerous radio and television episodes of The Roy Rogers Show, and was a founding member of the group Sons of the Pioneers.
Hailing from Duck Run, Roy’s first film appearance came in 1935 and continued through 1975, he was an idol for many children through his films and television shows in the 1940’s and 1950’s, becoming a cultural icon with an impact still celebrated today, at one point being second to only Walt Disney in the number of items featuring his name.
On February 8, 1960, Rogers was honored with three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: for Motion Pictures, for Television, and for Radio. In 1983 he was awarded the Golden Boot Award, and in 1996 he received the Golden Boot Founder’s Award.
In 1976, both Rogers and his wife, Dale Evans, were inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame, and in 1995 he was inducted again as a member of Sons of the Pioneers.
He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame twice, first as a member of Sons of the Pioneers in 1980, and again as a solo act in 1988.
Micah Schweinsberg – Award Winning Drummer
With his roots in gospel music – performing on nation music charting single “I’ve Got the Devil by the Tail” at age 5, Micah Schweinsberg has been involved in music from the start, from performing with his parents gospel group until age 15, to being a founding member of the Christian rock band 3PO and performing alongside CCM acts like Toby Mac, Jaci Velasquez, Audio Adrenaliine, Kirk Franklin, Switchfoot, and many others.
In 2002 Micah began touring with Justifide, and for the next two years traveled across the US and internationally playing festivals such as Spirit West Coast, Rock the Desert, Rock the Canyon, and the Ballinger Rock Festival in Germany. During his tenure the band held the longest running CHR (Contemporary Hit Radio) number one single.
In 2004 Schweinsberg joined gospel group The Crabb Family, performing at the Dove Awards in 2005 and again in 2007, as well as numerous times on the Grand Ole Opry, the TBN. Network, and Daystar Television Network.
In 2022 Micah took over drumming duties for the Grammy Award winning country group Diamond Rio.
Billy Ray Cyrus – County Music Artist
Known for his hit 1992 single, “Achy Breaky Heart”, Billy Ray Cyrus, born in Flat Woods, KY, has release 16 studio albums, 53 singles, eight top-ten singles, and a certified 9x platinum selling album.
Growing up in a family of musicians, and surrounded by bluegrass and gospel music, Cyrus attended Georgetown College on a baseball scholarship but after attending a Neil Diamond concert he realized music was where is heart lay, dropped out of college, and went to work becoming a professional musician.
In the 1980’s he and his band – Sly Dog – signed with Mercury Nashville Records, and by 1990 Cyrus had signed a deal with PolyGram/Mercury and was opening for Reba McEntire while continuing to write and record for his 1992 debut release. He would release six albums by the year 2000, and another ten by 2019, including with the supergroup “Brother Clyde” whose members include Phill Vassar, Jeffrey Steel, and John Waite.
As an actor, Cyrus has appeared in several movies and television shows, perhaps most famously alongside is his daughter Miley, in the Disney series Hannah Montana.
Read more about Billy Ray Cyrus
Earl Thomas Conley – County Music Artist
Between 1980 and 2003, Earl Thomas Conley recorded 10 studio albums (7 with RCA Records), charted more than thirty singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and had eighteen number one hits, behind only Alabama and Ronnie Milsap for the most number one hits of any artist in any genre during the 1980’s.
Born in 1941 in Portsmouth, Conley was offered a scholarship to art school but opted to joining the Army after high school. In 1968, after singing with a trio while in the service he decided to head out as a solo artist, writing and sing his own songs, and began commuting from his home in Dayton, OH, where he met and worked with Dick Heard and Mel Street, with Street ultimately scoring a top 10 with the song “Smokey Mountain Memories” from the collaboration.
Joining Warner Bros. Records in 1979, and then moving to Sunbird Records the same, he had his first Top 40 hit “Dreamin’s All I Do” but 1981, was nominated for multiple Grammy Awards for “Holding Her and Loving You”, and set a record in 1983 as the first artist in any genre to have four number one singles from the same album (Don’t make It Easy for Me).
In 1986 Conley release the single “Too Many Times” with Anita Pointer (The Pointer Sisters) which reached No. 2 on the country charts, and became the only country artist to appear on the music program Soul Train.
The 1980’s also saw Conley collaborating with bluegrass star Earl Scruggs and his son Randy, resulting in a string of hits.
After a short break from music in the early 1990’s, Conley returned in 1998 with the Intersound Records release “Perpetual Emotion” and the 2020 posthumous release “Promised Land: The Lost Album” on BFD Records.
In 2002 country music artist Blake Shelton had a Billboard Hot County Top 20 song, “All Over Me”, he co-wrote with Conley.
Read more about Earl Thomas Conley
Bobby Bare – Country Music Artist
Born in Ironton, OH, in 1935, Country Music Hall of Fame Member Bobby Bare is best known for his hit songs “Marie Laveau” “Detroit City” and “500 Miles Away from Home”, and is considered one of country music’s greatest song interpreters
Credited with helping develop and popularize the Outlaw era of country music in the 1970’s, Bare spent the 1950’s as a rock and roll singer, signing a record deal with Capital Records, but with little success. Just before being drafted into the Army, Bare penned “The All America Boy”, released on Fraternity Records, which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, but the record company had mistakenly credited his friend Bill Parsons with the record (he had helped Bare with the recording).
1962 saw Bare hit the country charts when Chet Atkins signed him to the RCA Victor record label, resulting in his debut single “Shame On Me”, the follow up “Detroit City” and “500 Miles Away” – based on the traditional folk song “500 Miles” by Hedy West. “Detroit City” would reach No. 6 on the country charts, No. 16 on the Hot 100, and earn Bare a Grammy Award in 1964 for Best Country & Western Recording. In 1965 he garnered two Grammy nominations for Best Country & Western Vocal Performance and Best Country & Western single for his cover of the Ian Tyson song “Four Strong Winds”. Bare followed this up in 1966 with a Grammy nomination for Best Country & Western Male Vocal Performance with his song “Talk Me Some Sense”.
In 1969 Bare had a Top 5 hit with Tom T. Hall’s “(Margie’s At) The Lincoln Park Inn”, before moving to Mercury Records in 1970. With Mercury, Bare recorded the Top 3 hit “How I Got To Memphis”, and had two Top 10 hits in 1971 with the Kris Kristofferson songs “Come Sundown” and “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends”.
Bare spent most of the 1970’s back at RCA, recording numerous charting songs and albums, collaborating with writers like Bob McDill, Shel Silverstein, and Baxtor Taylor, even releasing a children’s album recorded with his family that was nominated (though Bare declined the nomination) for a Grammy Award in the Best Group category.
During the mid 1980’s, Bare also was host of The Nashville Network’s “Bobby Bare and Friends” TV show.
Bare was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013, and was reinstated as a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 2018.
A 1961 graduate of Wheelersburg High School, Gary Billups has taken his saxophone on the road with iconic groups like the Four Freshmen, Four Tops, Four Seasons, Franki Valli, the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra and traveled the country competing with the Aladdin Temple Shrine band from Columbus, OH.
After attending Morehead State University studying music, Gary earned his Master’s Degree in music at Marshall University and spent the next 30 years as a music instructor, continuing as a guest lecturer at Shawnee State University and Rio Grande University.
Steve Free – Folk Artist
Since signing with Fraternity Recrods in 1990, Steve Free has become an internationally acclaimed award-winning artist. The winner of numerous Music Industry Awards including 9 ASCAP Awards, a Platinum Record and a Grammy nomination, he has charted over 30 songs on the National & International, Americana, Country & Billboard Charts, including fifteen No. 1 songs, and remains one of Music’s Top Folk Artist both in the U.S and in Europe.
His 1993 song about the Lucasville Prison riot “Siege at Lucasville” was featured in the 1996 48 Hours TV show documenting the event, and he earned the International Independent Recording Artist of the Year the same year.
In 2000 he received a lifetime achievement award from Airplay International in Nashville for his decades of international airplay.
In 2008 he won the Governor’s Award as the number one artist in Ohio, and 2009 saw him honored by the Kentucky State Senate for his musical contributions to Appalachia.
Steve has performed PBS, NPR, and The Nashville Network, featured in the AFM International Magazine, GTE Music Magazine, and has had his music featured in the PBS documentary “Beyond These Walls”.
Rick Ferrell – Country Music Artist
Considered one of Nashville’s most gifted and eclectic artists, Portsmouth native Rick Ferrell is a BMI award winning songwriter whose credits include Martina McBride’s “Where Would You Be”, Julianne Hough’s “You, You, You”, and Tim McGraw’s “Something Like That” – the most played radio song of the decade.
Ferrell has also penned songs recorded by fellow Portsmouth native Earl Thomas Conley, Montgomery Gentry, and The Swan Brothers, and has had his music featured on the A&E Network, Good Morning America, the Ellen Degeneres show, Cold Case Files, Entertainment Tonight, and the Fast Money Halftime Report.
Jacob Tolliver – Award Winning Pianist
A self-taught piano prodigy, West Portsmouth native Jacob Tolliver grew up idolizing Jerry Lee Lewis and Tony Bennett, taking his talent to season 14 of American Idol and never looking back.
Since gaining that first national audience, Jacob has portrayed Jerry Lee Lewis in the Las Vegas production of “Million Dollar Quartet”, performed to sold out audiences across the country, and shared the stage with some of the biggest names in business, including Ricky Skaggs, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Jackson Browne, and The Beach Boys.
Read more about Jacob Tolliver
Seth Morrison – Award Winning Guitarist
As guitarist for Christian rock band Skillet, Wheelersburg native Seth Morrison has shared the stage with some legendary Christian music acts, including TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, Relient K, Audio Adrenaline, Sanctus Real, and many more.
Starting from humble roots traveling around the state with his parents Southern Gospel group, Seth dabbled with the drums before settling on the guitar, and by 2001 he was playing with the groups 3PO and Everlasting Fire, and by 2004 he was touring Europe with Justifide.In 2011
Seth was given the opportunity to play with Skillet and has remained with the band since, garnering a GMA Dove Awards in 2013, 2015, and 2018, Loudwire Music Awards and HM Awards in 2013, and several Billboard Music Award nominations. The band was also recognized for recording the biggest digital single in the history of Christian music with their song “Monster”, having 2.6 million sales, as well as the song being certified 2x Platinum by the RIAA. It was the number one streaming Christian song of 2015, and the number eight streaming song rock song that year. By 2019 the song had been certified 3x Platinum, and their song “Hero” 2x Platinum.
Described as a “recording artist winning over listeners by storm with catchy originals and a knack for entertaining”, and selected as a CMA “Emerging Artist” twice, Portsmouth native Shane Runion had been playing music since he was a boy, but when two of his songs went viral, eventually topping European and Australian music charts, he put his career as a history teacher on hold and relocated to Nashville, where his first single “Tattoos” reached number 30 on the charts, and his second song “Love You That Much” reached number 25.