Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Fiddler's Dream: Old-Time, Swing, and Bluegrass Fiddling in Twentieth Century Missouri

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Fiddler's Dream: Old-Time, Swing, and Bluegrass Fiddling in Twentieth Century Missouri

Article excerpt

Fiddler's Dream: Old-Time, Swing, and Bluegrass Fiddling in Twentieth Century Missouri. By Howard Wight Marshall. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2017. Pp. xx, 427. $29.95, ISBN 978-0-8262-2121-6.)

In Fiddler's Dream: Old-Time, Swing, and Bluegrass Fiddling in Twentieth-Century Missouri, art historian and preservationist Howard Wight Marshall surveys Missouri fiddling from 1920 to 1960, continuing a quest he began with Play Me Something Quick and Devilish: Old-Time Fiddlers in Missouri (Columbia, Mo., 2013). This engaging volume should be of interest to musicians, general readers, and scholars of vernacular expressive culture.

Marshall's ongoing documentation of fiddling in his home state draws on material collected in oral interviews, archival photographs, field recordings, transcriptions of selected tunes, and his own personal knowledge of fiddling. The transcriptions are well formed and correspond to the selected recordings on the included compact disc. The volume is organized thematically, with chapters titled "Radio Fiddlers," "Music Parties," "Contests," "Shows," and "Family Tradition." Not constraining the study to one generic approach, Marshall devotes chapters to swing and jazz, with significant space for western swing, in addition to chapters on bluegrass and old-time approaches.

The chapters contain a stream of episodic biographies of fiddlers. While Marshall makes many fascinating observations about fiddling on local and national levels, he does not connect them in a larger rhetorical framework. Marshall's admiration for the people, musical practices, and material that he conveys is clear, but his perspective is one of celebration, not critical consideration.

Marshall's writing on issues pertaining to ethnicity shows this lack of critical engagement. African American fiddlers are mentioned in a matter-of-fact way through the earlier chapters, following a typical pattern in which white musicians who gained prominence in the early and mid-twentieth century are shown to have had links with older black musicians (for instance, Bill Monroe's childhood experiences with Arnold Schultz, the Carter Family's reliance on Lesley Riddle, and Hank Williams's formation with Rufus "Tee Tot" Payne). …

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