Slim Lehart receives a congratulatory hug from Cynthia Johnson, Event Manager at the Capitol Theater outside the main entrance of the theater on Friday. (Photo by Scott McCloskey)

TO GO BIKING – “The rolling cat” gave herself a big birthday present on Friday.

On the day he turned 86, friends and fans stood at the entrance of the Capitol Theater to honor country icon Slim Lehart of Wheeling for his contributions to the music and the city. The town “Slim Lehart Day” April 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic robbed Lehart of a public celebration on that day.

City officials gave him this long-awaited honor on Friday.

After an introduction by Frank O’Brien, Executive Director of the Wheeling Convention & Visitors Bureau, Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott read the proclamation for “Day of Lean Lehart”, that told some of his memorable exploits.

Lehart has had many great memories, particularly at the Capitol Theater where he was honored on Friday. This last celebration, he said, was an eternal memory.

“This is really about the best”, Lehart said “So that the locals come out and enjoy you and tell you what you did and how you helped in different areas.”

Born in Marshall County, Lehart moved to Wheeling at the age of 15. At 17 he joined the United States Navy and fought in the Korean War. Upon his return, his life began in country music.

He made his first appearance in 1965 for the Wheeling Jamboree at the Rex Theater. After that, he performed on accounts with country music legends for decades. He opened concerts for the Wheeling Jamboree and Jamboree USA almost every Saturday – but one of his fondest memories was in 1966 when Johnny Cash opened for him in Nashville.

He adopted the nickname “The rolling cat” of his signature song and captivated the audience with his energetic concerts. It wasn’t just a time to sing for him. It was a time to perform. A photo Lehart had saved on his cell phone showed him walking down a narrow stage in the center aisle of the Capitol Theater during a performance with all the audience’s eyes fixed on him.

“My style was active, very active” he said. “I was away from the stage and did all kinds of things. I did a show. “

Lehart and the Capitol Theater became synonymous. When the venue closed, he was at the forefront, fighting to reopen. O’Brien held up a photo at Friday’s event showing Lehart kneeling to kiss the stage after a performance in the reopened theater. When the theater was paid off, it was Lehart who was allowed to burn the mortgage papers.

“Talents and musicians like Slim Lehart, who are around 40 or 50 years old, created the stage for what we see today.” said O’Brien.

O’Brien added that Lehart’s stage presence and talent made him a great ambassador for entertainment for the town of Wheeling, playing a style that draws on the classic country artists.

“It’s authentic” he said. “I can’t think of any other word to describe it. It’s authentic country music that pays tribute to the genre’s roots. He has always stuck to this traditional approach. He never tried to modernize or rock it. “

After more than five decades of entertaining crowds from the Capitol to fairs, festivals, and parks, Lehart says he sometimes looks back on this life in music with amazement.

“It seems like I’m a different person” he said. “Well, it doesn’t seem like I did all that stuff. It’s a strange feeling. “

Yet it was him. And Wheeling wanted to make sure it was “Cat” received the admiration it deserves.

Get the latest news and more in your inbox