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THE FIDDLERS, DULCIMER PLAYERS, AND SINGERS


Barnes, Archie (b. 29 Dec. 1877 Meridian Twp., Ingham Co., Mich., d. May 1966), lived in the Okemos area all his life. He learned the fiddle and dulcimer as a child, from his father. He played the fiddle with his sister Elizabeth (Barnes) Palen accompanying on the dulcimer.

Battles, Luther (b. 18 Apr. 1889 Chardon, Geauga Co., Ohio, d. 24 July 1985) of Hambden, Ohio, learned to play the dulcimer as a teenager from Will Ostrander.  He was best-known for playing at the annual Apple Butter Festivals in Burton and Geauga County Maple Festivals in Chardon with a group that usually consisted of Keston Peters, fiddle, and Art Groetegood, bass.  He gave up playing following a stroke in 1971. Battles continued a tradition of dulcimer playing at the Maple Festival that went back at least to 1934, when Frank Alderman, of New Lyme Station, played it there for one hundred couples celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversaries.

Belanger, Reuben (b. 6 Apr. 1900 Leland Twp., Leelanau Co., Mich., d. 17 Feb. 1979 Mancelona, Mich.) of Elk Rapids, was the son of French-Canadian parents.  He was the father-in-law of Bob Spinner’s sister.

Bigford, Donna (b. 7 Mar. 1928 near Marion, Mich., d. 1 Dec. 1995 Lansing, Mich.) was the daughter of Bill Bigford. She knew quite a few of his songs.

Bill Bigford, Helen Gross, and me

Helen Gross, Bill Bigford, and me, playing at a grant-funded program at the Ark, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1978. I recall that this event drew an audience of about two people. Obviously a college town is not the place for local old-time music! (Photo by Martha Burns)

Bigford, William (b. 11 April 1898 Surry Twp., Clare Co., Mich., d. 28 Jan. 1984 Danby Twp., Ionia Co., Mich.), the son of William Bigford, a lumberjack, and the grandson of Canadian- and Wisconsin-born migrants.  He married Crystal Beebe, daughter of a lumber camp operator, in 1919 and had eleven children. He learned the fiddle and many songs, as well, from his father. He was raised near Farwell, then worked as a laborer and farmer in Marion and Portland.   He spent his last years living with his son Bill near Portland.  He made several fiddles, along with bows, entirely from wood he cut near his house.

Brown, Wilbur (b. 12 July 1907 Eveline Twp., Charlevoix Co., Mich., d. 25 Nov. 2002) of Petoskey.  Wilbur, the son of Lewis H. Brown, a farmer, was a member of a musical family that included his grandfather Sylvester Brown, his great-uncle John Brown (a dulcimer maker and player),  and first cousin of Jasper Warner.

Cameron, William (b. 28 June 1905 Bay Mills, Chippewa Co., Mich., d. 16 June 1987) of Brimley.  His Scottish great-grandfather came to the Sault Ste. Marie region as a missionary to the Indians, but “Doc” Bill Cameron was otherwise fully a Chippewa Indian.  He had worked at various jobs, including in lumber camps, during his life.  He lived with his Austrian-born wife in a house on Lake Superior outside the Brimley reservation. I called at his house unnanounced, after hearing about him from someone at Mackinac Island, and was treated to a meal of bear meat that his wife cooked. It was roadkill given to them by a DNR agent.

Cantrell, James R. (Peanut) (b. 6 Oct. 1897 Warren Co., Tenn., d. 25 Jan. 1991 McMinnville, Tenn.) of McMinnville, Tenn., was a nurseryman. He learned the dulcimer from his father, claiming that all the earlier generations of the family (back to "Jamestown in 1609") played the instrument as well.

Carmichael, Stewart (b. 6 May 1899 Chippewa Twp., Mecosta Co., Mich., d. there 21 Nov. 1990), son of Canadian-born parents of Scottish descent, he was a dairy and later beef farmer in Chippewa Township, Mecosta County, Michigan, where he lived all his life.  He attended Ferris Technical Institute for a year, but remained on the farm.  He bowed his fiddle with his left arm and was a good square dance caller.  He also purchased a dulcimer in 1922 and played second on that.  His wife Lulu (b. 4 Jan. 1907, d. 5 Nov. 1987) played piano with him.

Cease, Bud, of the Harbor Springs area, was a saw sharpener by trade and a fiddler by hobby.

Cushman, Fordney (b. 8 May 1912 DeWitt Twp., Clinton Co., Mich., d. 4 June 1999) of Bath, Michigan, where he was a farmer.  He was a descendant of Robert Cushman, the agent for the Pilgrims, who followed them to Plymouth in 1621.  He and Dallas Langham played for Lansing senior citizens’ dances in the 1970s.

Delorme, Theodore (b. 13 Feb. 1919, not sure if living or dead), of North Bay, Ontario; he learned the dulcimer from his brother-in-law, Aurel Chevrier, who married the daughter of the sister of Albert Bertrand, of Connaught, Ontario, locally famous as a musician. Bertrand made a chromatic dulcimer and called his invention a "carolino." He and his daughter recorded duets on it on the Starr label in the 1920s.

Dillingham, Richard (b. 26 Oct. 1924, d. 22 Dec. 1996 Mason, Mich.) played the piano at the dances in Onondaga that caller Guy Lincoln organized.

Dumler, David B. (b. 12 Aug. 1890 Blumenfeld, Russia, d. 13 March 1972 Russell, Kansas), came to America as an infant and worked as a farmer. He played the violin and dulcimer and made them, as well. He learned his Volga German repertoire in America and in later years attended fiddlers' contests in Kansas and Colorado.

Eckardt, Alexander (b. 1 Oct. 1900 Schwed, Russia, d. 16 Feb. 1976 Bradenton, Florida) came to America with his family in 1906 and came to Saginaw, Michigan, in 1915. He was an autoworker in Flint from 1923 to 1963. He started playing the dulcimer in 1924; he also played a button accordion.

Elton, Fred (b. 9 Jan. 1898 Middle Branch Twp., Osceola Co., Mich., d. 3 May 1980 Evart, Mich.) of Evart, son of parents from Ohio and New York, had worked at various jobs, including in a factory. 

Ewing, Clarence (b. 13 Jan. 1916 Alpena Co., Mich., d. 10 Oct. 2007 Alpena, Mich.) played the guitar at many of the early jamborees.

Fales, Varsal (b. 1 Jan. 1916 Leighton Twp., Allegan Co., Mich., d. 2 Mar. 1999) of Otsego worked on a farm and then for many years in a factory.  He learned originally from his father and other relatives.  He and Leslie Raber often played together.  At the time of these recordings, they regularly attended Michigan Fiddlers Association jamborees.

Filion, James (b.  1873 Dwight Twp., Huron Co., Mich., d. 1944), of French-Canadian and Scotch-Irish-Canadian descent, was a farmer of Dwight Township, Huron County, and is represented here by recordings made in 1941 by Bill Walker.

Franklin, Larry (b. 7 Apr. 1931, d. 25 July 1999 Onondaga, Mich.), played the tenor banjo for dances in Onondaga that caller Guy Lincoln organized.

Gage, Arthur (b. 16 July 1914 Lake Orion, Oakland Co., Mich., d. 3 Aug. 1992 Lake Orion, Mich.) of Lake Orion attended a couple of jamborees.

Gardner, Willis (b. 6 Apr. 1910 Clay District, Monongalia Co., W. Va., d. Sept. 1980 Brillant, Ohio) played dulcimer duets with his brother Worley.

Gardner, Worley (b. 19 Feb. 1919 Clay District, Monongalia Co., W. Va., d. 10 Nov. 1992 Morgantown, W. Va.) played dulcimer and five-string banjo.

Gross, Helen (Klumpp) (b. 15 Mar. 1902 Lodi Twp., Washtenaw Co., Mich., d. there 5 Mar. 1983) of Lodi Township, Washtenaw County, was a retired teacher.  She was the daughter of Jacob and Christina Klumpp who were themselves children of German immigrants.  She learned to play from her father, and played for dances; in later years, she regularly played for them at the rod and gun club in Willis.

Hasted, August (b. 8 Aug. 1897 Sullivan Twp., Muskegon Co., Mich., d. 1 May 1987 Croton, Mich.) of Newaygo, was the son of Joe and Wanda Hasted, who emigrated from Germany in 1881 and 1885.  He started playing for Grange dances in 1919.

Henderson, Jerome (Jerry) E. (b. 23 Nov. 1912 Manistee Co., Mich., d. 1 Jan. 1976 Filer, Mich.), was of Grosse Pointe Woods, and a violinist and member of the Detroit Federation of Musicians, Local 5, at the time he made recordings for the Michigan Square Dance label in the early 1950s.

Henderson, Peter (b. 31 May 1900 Inverness, Scotland, d. 25 Feb. 1976 Hagar Twp., Berrien Co., Mich.), came to Chicago in 1923, where he worked as a plumber. In retirement, he lived in Coloma, Michigan. He learned the dulcimer from his father, but did not bring one with him. He made two in Chicago, from proportions he drew by memory. His wife Johan learned to play one, as well as the harmonica, and they often played together at home.

Hickok, Elgia (b. 30 Oct. 1894 Amboy Twp., Hillsdale Co., Mich., d. April 1967 Sears, Osceola Co., Mich.) was an avid dulcimer player from the time he received one as a gift from his great-grandfather until his death. With his brother and other neighborhood boys in Clare County, he played as the "Tough Street String Band" in the years before World War I. He organized the Original Dulcimer Players Club in 1963.

Hober, Albert (b. 17 Oct. 1907 Ravenna Twp., Muskegon Co., Mich., d. 25 June 1998 Coopersville, Mich.) learned the dulcimer from his father, who was of German descent. He worked in sawmills and lived in Pewamo at the time I met him. He also played the mouth organ.

Hoffmeyer, Raymond (b. 19 Mar. 1906 Orient Twp., Osceola Co., Mich., d. 8 Nov. 1987 Briley Twp., Montmorency Co., Mich.) of Atlanta was working at Mackinac Island in 1976 as a carriage tour driver.  Raised in Presque Isle County, had worked in lumber camps in the Atlanta area (which were some of the last in the Lower Peninsula) as a young man. 

House, Elmer (b. (b. 12 Dec. 1906 Bruce Twp., Chippewa Co., Mich., d. 4 Mar. 1989 Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.), lived outside of Sault Ste. Marie all his life.  For many years, he worked about half the year at the barn of the Grand Hotel at Mackinac Island, tending to the stable of horses, which is where I knew him.

Keller, Walter (Pete) (b. 6 Dec. 1926 Cross Village Twp., Emmet Co., Mich., d. 13 July 2006 Harbor Springs, Mich.), of Cross Village.  Pete was of German-Polish background and lived in the Cross Village area all his life.  He lived near other relatives in a neighborhood called "Kellerville,"  and learned the fiddle from his uncles.  His wife was a member of the Ottawa tribe, and Pete learned to speak the language and made porcupine quill boxes which he sold to dealers in Mackinac City.  He worked mostly in the woods.  He played the fiddle, piano, accordion, tenor banjo, and experimented with other instruments.  I met him and Dan Johnston earlier that summer, when I visited the well-known log tavern there, the Leggs' Inn, where a local talent show was in progress.

Kania, Edward (b. 9 Feb. 1926 Metz, Presque Isle Co., Mich., d. 9 Sept. 2011), of Hawks, was the son of Felix Kania, a clarinetist of Polish descent recorded by Alan Lomax in 1938 on his trip to the Polish settlement at Posen; he played both Polish tunes and Canadian fiddle tunes he learned from recordings

Kranz, Edward (b. 15 Oct. 1912 Sherman Twp., Huron Co., Mich., d. 18 June 2003), of Harbor Beach.  He played in a style influenced by Don Messer, the only such Michigan fiddler I encountered.   For a long time, he had a fifteen-minute show on a Thumb radio station.

LaFrenier, Luke (b. 1 June 1907 Sugar Island, Chippewa Co., Mich., d. 7 Mar. 1988 Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.), of Sault Ste. Marie, was a Chippewa Indian living on the reservation at the Soo. 

LeBlanc, Arthur (b. 13 Aug. 1922, d. 15 Jan. 1998 Brimley, Mich.), played the piano. He was the chief of the Bay Mills Chippewa Indian Community and a fisherman by occupation.

Langham, Dallas (b. 1 May 1902 Duplain Twp., Clinton Co., Mich., d. 27 Sep. 1982 Delhi, Mich.), of Delhi, was a retired autoworker who, in his last years, played regularly for senior citizens’ dances in Lansing.

Martin, Glen (b. 15 Apr. 1925), of Bridgeport, played guitar and fiddle; was the brother-in-law of Walt Taylor.

Maser, Henry (b. 4 Apr. 1904 Russia, d. Oct. 1966), of Flint, later of Au Gres, played Volga German music on the fiddle and dulcimer.

Frank Mattison

Frank Mattison and me, Evart, 1979

Mattison, Frank (b. 2 June 1894 Columbus, Ohio, d. 21 May 1986 Otisco Twp., Ionia Co., Mich.) of Smyrna, worked at various jobs, including that of musician.  He was the son of Danish-born show people, growing up in the Cadillac area, and began to learn the violin at a young age.  In his last years, he played regularly for Grange dances at Coral and Trufant, usually with his wife, who played saxophone, and daughter, who played piano.

McAfee, Gale (b. 4 March 1911 Montrose, Genesee Co., Mich., d. 13  Jan. 1983 Flint, Mich.) of Manton at the time I visited him in 1975.  He was raised in the Montrose, Michigan, area, and had lived in Flint, where he was an autoworker, but had retired to Manton at the time of my visits.   He learned the fiddle originally from his father Calvin McAfee, a native of Canada, who came to Michigan about 1869.  He also learned tunes from a hired man named Zack Brown, and at sessions in a barber shop in Montrose in the 1920s.

McCarron, John (b. 23 June 1897 Bruce Twp., Chippewa Co., Mich., d. 3 Oct. 1984 Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.) of Sault Ste. Marie.  He was working at Mackinac Island in 1976 and living with his nephew Elmer House when I met him.

Meske, Walter (b. 2 Jan. 1903 Huron Twp., Huron Co., Mich., d. 3 May 1997) of Port Hope.  The son of German immigrants, he was a rural mail carrier for many years.  He learned the fiddle at a young age and played for house parties.  In the late 1920s, he helped organize a town band, in which he played trombone and other instruments, and for many years gave up the fiddle.  He came to several jamborees.

Miller, Orin (b. 14 Apr. 1913 Sherman Twp., Mason Co., Mich., d. 12 Mar. 1996 Custer, Mich.) of Scottville.  He happened to hear me play at Mackinac Island. After he recognized my playing of "Haste to the Wedding" as "Waves of Lake Erie," I knew I had to look him up at home. He was knitting stocking caps (or “chooks”) as a source of income.

Miller, Phil, of Kinde, Mich., played the piano with Bill Walker.

Moran, James (b. 22 July 1904 Mount Morris, Genesee Co., Mich., d. 7 April 1984 Detroit, Mich.) of St. Clair Shores.  Of Potato-Famine-era Irish descent, he was a Detroit lawyer.  He learned from fiddlers in the Mount Morris area, some of them his relatives.  His great-uncle, Patrick Moran, a native of Ireland, was a fiddler in the Flint area and played for many firemen’s dances there.

Naganashe, Daniel (b. 30 Jan. 1910 Harbor Springs, Emmet Co., Mich., d. there 1 July 1981) of Harbor Springs, was a full-blood Ottawa that Dan Johnston introduced to me.

Nelson, Russell (b. 20 June 1915 Springfield Twp., Kalkaska County, Mich., d. 9 Feb. 1989 Lansing, Mich.) of Lansing.  Learned from his father George, whose parents were born in Denmark and Sweden.  In the 1930s, he played on Lansing radio stations.   For many years, he worked as a barber.

Olsen, Merritt (b. 27 Feb. 1915 Birmingham, Mich., d. there 27 Oct. 1989) of Birmingham. He was half Danish and half Yankee; raised in Birmingham, but visited his uncle's farm in Montcalm County.  He owned a meat market in Birmingham for many years.  He also played the button accordion and (starting in the 1950s) the dulcimer.  He learned the fiddle from the fathers of boys in his Boy Scout troop, Charlie Jones and Fenton Watkins, as well as from hired men on his uncle's farm.

Pariseau, George (b. 1868 LaChute, Quebec, Canada, d. 17 May 1949 Bad Axe, Mich.) of Bad Axe, came to Port Huron with his family as a child. After working in the woods near Alpena, he settled in Bad Axe. He became well known as a fiddler for dances, playing with his children Mina, Dewey, Ford, and others. Henry Ford visited him in 1925.

Parker, Chester (b. 12 Aug. 1891 Algoma Twp., Kent Co., Mich., d. 16 Mar. 1975 Rockford, Mich.) of Edgerton.  He worked as a gandy dancer for the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad, as a truck driver and farmer, and in other occupations, but he was best known as a dulcimer player, playing for dances in his local area.  He learned the fiddle from his father, a native of Erie County, New York. He and Elgia Hickok appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965; a record of Chet was released on the Folkways label in 1966.

Pierce, Malcolm (Bud) (b. 14 Feb. 1926, d. 17 Jan. 1994 Baltimore Twp., Barry Co., Mich.) played the guitar and dulcimer in later years. He had originally gotten interested in the latter instrument from an old-timer, Albert Woodmansee, who operated a sawmill when he was a boy.

Polk, August (b. 15 Aug. 1897 Paris Twp., Huron Co., Mich., d. 19 Aug. 1978 Ubly, Mich.) of Ubly, came to a jamboree in Port Hope once, accompanied by a piano-accordion player.  His family was a part of the earliest Polish settlement in Michigan, dating from the 1850s.

Raber, Leslie (b. 14 Mar. 1911 Trowbridge Twp., Allegan Co., Mich., d. 18 Aug. 2000 Hastings, Mich.), of Hastings.  He ran a dairy farm for many years.  He learned the fiddle from his father and other relatives, and learned tunes from others, including John Annis.  He played for a lot of dances in the 1940s and 1950s, doubling on drums (for the round dances) but playing fiddle for the square dances.  After 1979 he became involved in statewide fiddle and dulcimer activities, and became a strong presence at them.  He played tunes from oral tradition, from such publications as Gems of the Ballroom, as well as “modern” fox trots. Unfortunately, since I never had a portable tape recorder at the many times I played with him, I can't include much. Jim McKinney's website has a page devoted to Les, and he has tried to be exhaustive in his inclusion of Les' tunes.

Reames, Peter (b. 5 Oct. 1888 Muskegon, Mich., d. Mar. 1980 Muskegon Heights, Mich.) of Muskegon Heights was raised in Shelby, Ocean County, and learned the button accordion and dulcimer as a teenager. In the 1960s and 1970s, he played duets with his granddaughter, Eleanor Sorenson (b. 1952), who played the dulcimer exactly in his style.

Royer, Adelard (b. 18 Aug. 1904 Rudyard, Chippewa Co., Mich., d. there 15 Aug. 1985) of Rudyard, of parents who had come from Quebec.  He was a farmer.

Seba, Peter (b. 26 Apr. 1883 Ravenna Twp., Muskegon Co., Mich., d. there 15 Jan. 1986), son of German immigrants, lived all his life in Ravenna, where he farmed. He learned the fiddle as a teenager and the dulcimer after 1904. In his younger years he played for dances at the Bunny Club, a community hall.

Sebastian, Charles (Bud) (b. 18 May 1925 Clarence Twp., Calhoun Co., Mich., d. 20 June 2009) of Springport, played for dances with a group called the “Wranglers,” organized by caller Guy Lincoln.

Sinclair, Cloise (b. 10 Feb. 1906 Bushnell Twp., Montcalm Co., Mich., d. 15 Jan. 2005 Sheridan, Mich.) of Sheridan. His father Eugene played dulcimer, and his mother’s family played several instruments as well, which they did at house parties. Cloise played the dulcimer, fiddle, and bones, often with his brother Harley.

Sinclair, Harley (b. 6 Feb. 1910 Bushnell Twp., Montcalm Co., Mich., d. 4 Jan. 1999 Fenwick, Mich.), of Fenwick, where he farmed. He played the piano and, after 1970, a dulcimer which he had played as a boy. Harley and Cloise played at the National Folk Festival in Virginia in 1977 or so.

Smith, Kenneth (b. 29 Dec. 1909 Pickford, Chippewa Co., Mich., d. there l28 Oct. 1980) of Pickford, born and raised in Pickford, in the Upper Peninsula, of Scotch-Irish descent via Ontario, he had a television repair shop.

Snyder, Everett (b. 31 May 1909, d. Oct. 1983 Baldwin, Mich.) , of Baldwin.  He took lessons as a child from Jep Bisbee, and played a violin made by Bisbee.  He came once to a jamboree.

Soule, George (b. 28 Feb. 1889 Tyre, Sanilac Co., Mich., d. Jan. 1981), of Port Hope, was a farmer, who came to a jamboree once.

Spinner, Robert (b. 25 Oct. 1932 Elk Rapids, Mich., d. there 1 October 1990), of Elk Rapids, got interested in the dulcimer after hearing Jay Mudge in a high school presentation when he was fourteen; he then made several and played for square dances, learning from old-timers. He got interested also in banjo, and was inspired on the tenor banjo by Jasper Warner. He also played Hungarian Gypsy music on the cimbalom, played the fiddle, Greek music on the mandocello, and was a great all-around person.

Staines, Ken (b. 27 Mar. 1912, d. 19 Apr. 1982 Sheridan, Mich.) of Sheridan, played the tenor banjo with his brother-in-law, Harley Sinclair at many events.

Stevens, Frank (b. 10 Sept. 1889 Ensley Twp., Newaygo Co., Mich., d. Oct. 1978 Sand Lake, Mich.) , of Sand Lake.  He played for granary dances when young.  He was a barber for many years in Sand Lake.  He also played a dulcimer.

Swan, Lewis (b. 9 March 1908 Amity Twp., Erie Co., Pa., d. 7 June 1973 Toledo, Ohio) lived in Samaria, Mich., just north of Toledo. He learned the fiddle and dulcimer from his father, Hibbard Swan. I never met him, but heard of him from a neighbor, who heard me play at a 4-H function in Lansing. I did meet his brother Floyd (known as Jack), of Corry, Pa., in 1976.

Taylor, Walter (b. 18 Apr. 1911 Vassar, Tuscola Co., Mich., d. 24 Oct. 1998 Caro, Mich.) of Vassar, came to several jamborees with his brother-in-law Glen Martin.

Toms, Allan (b. 20 Feb. 1897 Rockford, Kent Co., Mich., , d. June 1969 Lansing, Mich.) played dulcimer with his father Welcome, a farmer who lived near Manton, Michigan; worked as an autoworker in Lansing.

Tuttle, Wallace (b. 18 Feb. 1889 Locke Twp., Ingham Co., Mich., d. 5 Nov. 1980 East Lansing, Mich.) of Lansing, was born and raised on a farm north of Williamston. He went to Lansing and began working in the 1920s for the Michigan State Police.  He learned from several fiddlers in the Williamston area.

Van Arsdale, Paul (b. 1920 Pine Grove Twp., Warren Co., Pa.) of North Tonawanda, N.Y., has become well known as a dulcimer player; he learned many tunes from his grandfather, Jesse R. Martin, of Frewsburg, N.Y.

Walker, Wilbert (Bill) A. (b. 8 June 1900 Dwight Twp., Huron Co., Mich., d. 22 June 1990 Port Austin, Mich.), of Port Austin, farmer, had a bee apiary; retired in Port Austin.  He learned from old fiddlers Johnny Crease, Jim Filion, and George Pariseau.

Warner, Jasper (b. 10 Mar. 1917 Norwood Twp., Charlevoix Co., Mich., d. 14 July 1994 Charlevoix, Mich.), son of Emma (Brown) Warner, who was still active as a fiddler for square dances into the 1950s, when Bob Spinner played with her, played the tenor banjo as his primary instrument, but also the fiddle. He continued to play for dances at the Barnard Grange hall until his death.

Watkins, Fenton (b. 25 Oct. 1885 Geneva Twp., Van Buren Co., Mich., d. 19 Oct. 1981 Birmingham, Mich.) grew up near South Haven, but went to Birmingham as a young man to work on his uncle's farm. For many years, he operated the Shetland pony concession at Boblo Island, an amusement park in the Detroit River. He played the fiddle and after 1950 learned the dulcimer, which he had played as a boy at "maple sugar" parties.