As they say in the legislative process, “A point of personal privilege.” Tuesday, Virginia unexpectedly lost a true treasure in singer, song writer and radio host Page Wilson (Richmond Times-Dispatch). He was only 56. So much could be said about him, but the one thing that stands out was his love of Virginia — its history, traditions, culture, land, produce and people . . . and music . . . and all things Virginia, but especially the music. He was an exceptional musician with an extraordinary voice, who rooted his stylings in the genuine: home, land, family. His instrumentation reflected the old-time. You felt it and it meant something.
As an individual, he was no less impressive. He was a constant giver, especially of his time and influence to help other musicians through his popular radio show or behind the scenes to get them a break, or to promote music and cultural festivals and charities, humbly doing so when, perhaps, he could’ve been helping himself to greater renown. He staged concerts at Virginia’s state parks, its historic theaters and in the neighborhood joints dedicated to authentic music, featuring not only his band but showcasing others, even the combining the old Virginia with the Old World when performing with the Richmond Symphony. He was a Virginia Gentleman.
He meant something to many (witness the reflections in the comments of the article linked above). Even if you never heard of him, you probably heard him, as he was a popular commercial voice talent, and (see below), sang one particularly amazing ad. People will say you couldn’t talk to him for a few minutes before he would expound on the joys and beauty of Virginia and how infectious his love for it was. A personal story: As a young’en, so to speak (not long removed from college), I first heard him and his band Reckless Abandon at a unpretentious, stripped down establishment in an old building, where purveyors of Americana performed. After the show I gathered the nerve to speak to the star. It was as if I made an instant best friend and he invited me to an after party in the same building. A nobody, out of nowhere, suddenly was hobnobbing with the elite of their craft, a who’s who of music talent, just hanging out, a night so memorable I still can’t grasp adequate words to describe it. But the musical prose transcended poetry.
Although I followed him for some time, taking things for granted is a difficult-to-disregard trait — tragically, when people are involved. I only saw him perform sparingly in recent years, thinking, “I can always see Page. Next time.” Now there won’t be.
Two of the last times I can remember seeing him perform, ironically, were at a mutual friend’s mother’s funeral and at a memorial for another music industry figure, and he sang The Lord’s Prayer a cappella in a way that would move you to no end. Unfortunately, all things must end. It’s just a shame some do sooner than we’d like.
Words can only convey so much. His music speaks best. Below are two songs for which Page may be best known. Many believe ”Virginia” should be the state song (it opened his weekly radio show). No one loved the Commonwealth more, nor expressed it better, and this song epitomized it. Its lyrics, each phrase plucking at the heart a little stronger than the last, inspire while poignantly longing for Virginia and all its beauty, while maintaining a love for home even in the hereafter — which has come unfairly too soon.
Shed no tears at life’s passing . . . know the best is yet to come. When this earthly ramble is over . . . Virginia, home in my heart always.
Update: I found this version of “Virginia” where Page and “the boys” performed before a live audience, likely in the early 1990s.
Page Wilson: Virginian through and through.