The Labette Community College Alumni Association named James Wesley the 2019 recipient of the 20th annual William and Allene Guthrie Van Meter Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award.
Wesley grew up in Mound Valley and attended Labette County High School before attending Labette Community College. He first discovered country music via his grandmother’s record collection, which included plenty of classic crooners like Marty Robbins, George Jones and Ray Price.
Wesley’s first move into the music industry was Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where he performed in a nightly music and variety show.
He was signed to Warner Brothers in 1999 as James Prosser. He released one album, “Life Goes On,” before adopting the Wesley moniker.
Wesley moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to learn the music business and took a construction job to make ends meet.
Wesley started working with songwriter Rodney Clawson and producer Dan Frizzell, signed a deal with Broken Bow Records and released the single “Jackson Hole.” The song debuted at No. 41 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts and was followed in 2010 by a second single, “Real,” that topped the charts at No. 22, followed by “Didn’t I” at No. 24 in 2011.
In May 2011, Mound Valley declared May 29 as James Wesley Day and presented him with a key to the city. He is the first person to receive a key.
Wesley worked as the opening act for two weeks on Taylor Swift’s Speak Now tour. He continued touring and more singles followed in anticipation of Wesley’s debut album, “Real,” including “Walking Contradiction,” “Thank A Farmer” and “Hooked Up” which appeared in 2012, 2013 and 2015.
Wesley continues touring and playing corporate events across the country. One of the highlights of his career was being asked to be a part of the Merle Haggard tribute album titled “Working Man’s Poet,” released in April 2014. The two Haggard songs performed by James were “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” and “The Fightin’ Side of Me.”
His new EP James Wesley was released May 10 features five new James Wesley originals.
The Van Meter award will be presented at the 22nd annual Donor Appreciation Luncheon on Friday, Nov. 1. The award was named in memory of the Van Meters for their estate gift that funded renovation of Thiebaud Theatre at LCC. William was a 1929 graduate of the college and Allene taught romance languages at the college from 1929 to 1935. Previous alumni who have received this award include: Josh Whetzel in 2018, John Kelley in 2017, Bonnie Houk in 2016, Melissa Morris in 2015, Kevin A. Moore in 2014, Dr. Douglas A. Gardenhire in 2013, Gary Bandy in 2012, Dr. C.J. Huff in 2011 and Dr. Jerry Bouman in 2010.