Anyone who has made even the laziest attempt at knowing anything at all about the local music scene has heard the name Whisman. Whether by an opening act, a concert, a gig at a local bar or a random jam session on the street, Johnny, Jason and Derek have all been heavily involved in any musical outlet they can get their hands on. The three brothers and their six siblings have all been involved in music one way or another since they could walk, which goes back to their parents and a 57 year history in local music. It almost seems that the Whisman siblings had music born into them by mother Linda Whisman.
The years of musical involvement are proven instantly, as soon as you walk into the Whisman household. From the foyer to the back door, the Whisman home greets you with a rich love of music.
Instruments lie in every which direction, from a piano, various guitars, violins, mandolins, cellos, and many that I can’t even name; the walls are adorned with a generous amount of photographs of the family playing music throughout half of a century; and the shelves and tables are full of books on musicians and other musical paraphernalia.
When I sat and spoke with Linda Whisman last week, I tried to keep the story focused on her involvement with the Southern Ohio Opry, but it was too easy to fall into stories about her past and her family of musicians.
Stories ranged from the pirate radio station operated by Jason, which was shut down by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the same station that accidentally took over local church sound systems and played music of their choice; Johnny playing his first pretend violin at the age of four, which was only two forks he was rubbing together; jam sessions with touring musicians in the Whisman household, where they stayed as guests; years of playing music with the “Front Streeters” back in the day; giving hundreds free music lessons in the park for years during their open jam sessions, and more. The Whisman family has a history that is both important to local music and entertaining, it is definitely something that is just begging to be told through the words in a book.
Linda began performing when she was 15 years old. She and her brother were given an old guitar and the love that grew from that instrument is what started more than half of a century of music. Linda’s mother didn’t agree with musical instruments, so she and her brother had to keep the old guitar in the weeds behind their house.
Linda and her brother would rush home after school each day, pull their guitar out of the weeds, and would take turns playing. They kept this up until their father overheard them one evening. After hearing the two playing, and seeing them enjoy the instrument so much, he got them enrolled in music classes. When Linda’s mother finally heard her children play guitar, and saw that they were good at it, she became open to music and allowed them to pursue it further.
Linda’s husband, Bill Whisman, began playing music just as young as Linda did. When Bill was in the military on active duty, his Sergeant heard him playing and started taking him off base to play in competitions and gigs, which he would often win.
Linda Whisman’s role in the community has a far reach, from giving free music lessons in the park, which gave many in Portsmouth an understanding of the guitar; providing free outlets for musicians to perform and better their art; opening musical acts for Portsmouth River Days for many years; and helping keep the Southern Ohio Opry alive by scouting the performing talents of the children of many famous country acts.
Whisman is the living epitome of what it means to live, breathe and bleed music, and while the 72 year-old musician plays less often these days, her legacy continues through her children and the people who she has touched with her involvement in music.
Joseph Pratt can be reached at 740-353-3101, EXT 1932, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.