CHARLESTON — “Try every day to be better human beings!”
No, that’s no piece of advice or command from me. That was one of many enthusiastic quotes uttered by the excited singer-songwriter Walter DeBarr as we sat chatting on a recent Thursday at a bar-and-grill in Charleston around midday.
Walter, a Buckhannon native, has begun to gain some traction in the music industry with the release of his single, “Blackened,” on a host of streaming services – including Spotify – and a West Coast tour slotted to begin the 20th of this month. Walter DeBarr, myself and Pamela Kesling, Walter’s significant other and a member of his three-piece band, discussed the newfound support as well as the troubled past Walter has waded through.
“I’m just so grateful for the team I have behind me,” he said earnestly, referring to both his family members and management team in high regard. “They really believe in me.”
As I inquired about his personal and musical journey, Walter explained he has endured his fair share of trials and tribulations growing up in Buckhannon. Battles with addiction, losing loved ones, and first-hand experiences with racism created the perfect storm to destroy a man. Yet, Walter, who grew up in West Virginia where having a mixed racial identity hasn’t always proved easy, persevered and continued on to spread his unique music and a message of love.
When I asked Walter what he most attributed to any success he’d found in life he had a simple answer – perseverance.
“What you’re doing while no one is looking means more than what you show others,” Walter related, as he reminisced about the past. “Everything comes back to being a good person.”
Thinking a minute, he added, “I’m realizing that more and more each day.”
Walter’s rocky past would eventually lead him to a halfway house in Beckley, West Virginia, where he discovered his voice. He thought back fondly of those times, remembering that house as the place where he truly got his start in music. A friend of Walter’s posted a video of him playing at the halfway house, and from seemingly out of nowhere, the support began to flood in. Soon, Walter started moving with a sense of urgency and began doing everything he could to be around music. He hosted open mic nights at local establishments and began playing out more, acting as both a promoter and performer of music.
It was during this time when Walter and Pamela would meet and begin working together.
“I wanted to cast Walter in a better light,” Pamela said. “He is so talented.”
Through Pamela’s marketing experience and Walter’s burning desire to continue making original music, an image was formed. An EP recording and a host of single-song releases later and Walter is now signed with UnchainedHQ, a media management group whose eclectic taste includes artists such as CKY, Killswitch Engage, Children of Bodom and William Elliot Whitmore. (In fact, Walter and his band are prepping to head out on tour with Whitmore this week.)
“Those guys are the salt of the earth,” Walter exclaimed, as he poured forth his adulation for his management team.
As described on his website, Walter’s distinctive “raspy vocals and untrained, folky finger-picking style” guitar-playing has captured many live music lovers’ attention, and when he isn’t performing solo acoustic sets or playing with his full band, he and Pamela sometimes take the stage as the duet they have dubbed “The Little Blue Hearts.”
As we talked about his love for his management team, inspiring people with music and more, I noticed a strange phenomenon. It felt as though every person walking down the busy streets of Charleston knew Walter DeBarr. The man had never met a stranger, and the optimistic energy he carried with him was infectious. Hugs, ‘hellos’ and smiles seemed to follow Walter and I got the sense that this, too, was a contributing factor in his success. Through the pleasant interruptions as we conversed, Walter talked about his efforts to bring music to people during the pandemic as well.
Ever true to his promoting ways, Walter had an idea to host an online music festival during the pandemic and within 30 minutes of coming up with the concept, he was already messaging other acts and had a Facebook page. The effort was well-received and features a surprising count of unique artists. And even though there haven’t been many recent updates, both Walter and Pamela seemed quite interested in firing it back up should the opportunity arise.
As we neared the end of our time together, I was thrilled to find my cheeks hurting from all the smiles and laughs we shared. I walked away more optimistic and found that to be the Walter DeBarr charm.
If you wish to support a local artist from a small town who is making big headway, visit walterdebarrmusic.com to learn more or click here to view a list of upcoming tour dates. You can also check out “Blackened” on YouTube here.
Tyler Hall is a Buckhannon local whose enthusiastic interests include, but are not limited to music, gaming, public service and literature.